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Michigan student coach who survived two plane crashes inspires Final Four team

Onetime high school standout Austin Hatch, who survived two plane crashes that killed his entire family, has helped lead the team from the sidelines.
by Scott Stump / / Source: TODAY

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The most remarkable fact about Michigan's journey to the NCAA men's basketball Final Four this weekend may be that Austin Hatch is alive to see it.

The Wolverines' undergraduate student assistant is thankful to be part of the ride after surviving two plane crashes as a teen that killed all five members of his family.

"I’ve lost a tremendous amount, and obviously everyone knows it’s extremely difficult, tragic,'' Hatch, 23, told The Athletic. "I’ve grieved about things, and that’s normal. But I don’t see how sulking through the tough days helps.

"My family, if they were here, would encourage me to pick it up and keep moving forward."

John Beilein, Austin Hatch
Student undergraduate coach Austin Hatch has been an inspiration to Michigan during its run to the Final Four. AP

It will be the end of an extraordinary chapter for the former Indiana high school basketball star when he takes the floor with his team to face Loyola-Chicago in the Final Four in San Antonio on Saturday.

"It makes your heart warm," Michigan head coach John Beilein told The New York Post. "If we’ve been a small part of his life, it’s tremendous. He’s been a huge part of my life and this team’s life."

Hatch, who is from Fort Wayne, was 16 when he was gravely injured in a plane crash that killed his father and stepmother.

Hatch's father, Dr. Stephen Hatch, was at the controls during a trip to the family's summer home when his small plane crashed at Charlevoix Municipal Airport on June 24, 2011.

Dr. Hatch and his wife, Kim, were killed. Austin, who had verbally committed to Michigan nine days earlier, was left in a medically-induced coma.

The 6-foot-6 star forward had to relearn how to walk, talk and breathe after suffering a traumatic brain injury.

He also had to deal with the grief of having lost the remaining members of his family.

Austin Hatch
Hatch has stayed close to the Michigan program as a student coach after deciding to end his playing career after his freshman season. AP

By grim coincidence, eight years earlier, when Hatch was 8, a different plane his father was piloting went down, killing his mother, Julie, and two siblings.

After the second crash, Hatch not only recovered, he made an inspirational return to the basketball court.

He went to live with an uncle in California and then moved on to Michigan, his mother's alma mater, where head coach John Beilein honored the scholarship offered before the 2011 tragedy.

Hatch played in five games as a freshman for the Wolverines, but decided not to return to the team after that season. Lingering effects of the second crash meant he was not the same player.

Instead, he became an undergraduate student assistant for Beilein, with whom he has formed a close bond.

Hatch was honored as part of a senior day ceremony last month, receiving a loud ovation from the crowd at Michigan's Crisler Center.

He has also become a public speaker, sharing his amazing tale of overcoming adversity.

"I can hear their voices in my head when I face a difficult situation,'' he told Maria Shriver on TODAY in 2016. "I can hear my dad guiding me. That's really all I strive to do, is just to honor him with my life.

Michigan's trip to the Final Four is the beginning of a series of major life events for Hatch. In April, he will graduate with a degree in organizational studies, and on June 16, he will marry his fiancee, former Michigan volleyball player Abby Cole.

In July, he plans to start a job with the corporate office of Domino's Pizza in Ann Arbor.

"If I would've thought of this situation before it happened to me, I wouldn't have thought I could make it either,'' Hatch told Shriver in 2016. "It really comes down to character, just being able to persevere in the midst of tragedy and adversity."

"With Austin, when you go through what he’s been through, there’s not a playbook, you know?'' Cole told The Athletic. "No one has gone through what he’s gone through in that same way, and, well, I don't think many people would respond as well as he has."

Follow TODAY.com writer Scott Stump on Twitter.

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