From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ValuJet Plane Crash

Date 15 May 1996 17:20:29

"UNITED METHODIST DAILY NEWS" by SUSAN PEEK on Aug. 11, 1991 at 13:58 Eastern,

Note 2963 by UMNS on May 15, 1996 at 16:17 Eastern (7778 characters).

SEARCH: accident, plane, crash, doomed, Hispanic, ministry. 

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Produced by United Methodist News Service, official news agency of
the United Methodist Church, with offices in Nashville, Tenn., New
York, and Washington.

CONTACT: Linda Green                           249(10-32-71){2963}
         Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470              May 15, 1996

Seven North Georgia United Methodists perish 
in ValuJet plane crash in the Everglades

by Alice Smith*

     ATLANTA, (UMNS) -- As the Saturday night services began at
Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church, Alpharetta, Ga., May 11,
senior pastor the Rev. Warren Lathem was on the telephone with
ValuJet airlines.
     He learned what he feared most -- his son Ray; Carlos
Gonzalez, the church's Hispanic pastor; and Dana and Roger Lane, a
couple active in the church's Hispanic ministry, all were on board
downed flight 592. He announced the tragic news to the people
gathered for the 6 p.m. service and then went home to be with his
     All four passengers had been to Venezuela, Gonzalez' home
country, to take part in a mission experience, working with a
construction team from three other United Methodist churches and
investigating the possibilities for further Methodist work in the
predominately Roman Catholic country.
     A fifth person, Gonzalez' 13-year-old niece, Lila Violeta
Gonzalez, was returning with her uncle for a visit.
     In the north Georgia town of Gainesville, about 40 miles from
the booming town of Alpharetta in the metro Atlanta suburbs,
similar shocking news was spreading among members of St. Paul
United Methodist Church on Washington Street. Three long-time
active members of that congregation also perished in the crash,
Louise and Hugh Stanley and Ruth Wolfe.
     The ValuJet DC-9 plunged into a sawgrass marsh in Florida's
Everglades swamp shortly after its take-off at 2:05 p.m. the
Saturday before Mother's Day. All 109 people on board the flight
from Miami to Atlanta perished, including 41 from Georgia.
     At Mt. Pisgah's Saturday Sabbath service, and the Hispanic
one that followed at 7:30 p.m., worship leaders struggled to carry
on amidst the heartbreaking news, since it is during such bleak
times that people need their church family most.
     "People gathered at the homes of the bereaved, as well as at
the church, up until 11 p.m. praying," said the associate pastor,
the Rev. Dan Dunn. "Everybody was shocked and saddened but
responded lovingly and supportively."
      "There must have been hundreds of people at the Lathems,"
according to Atlanta-Roswell District Superintendent the Rev.
Harold Smith. "There was a constant coming and going, a huge
number of clergy, friends and church members."
     The next day each church observed a special prayer time
during regular Sunday services. The 11 a.m. service at Mt. Pisgah
was a particularly bittersweet time, since the 60-member
confirmation class was received into the church -- a normally
happy occasion overshadowed by the previous day's events.
     The group of four from Mt. Pisgah had spent part of the week
in Venezuela helping construct a church building with United
Methodists from Norcross First, Sandy Springs and Marietta First
United Methodist churches. The second part of the week, the Mt.
Pisgah foursome branched off to investigate possibilities for
further mission work.
     Ray Lathem III, 20, a student at United Methodist-related
Reinhardt College in Waleska, had announced his intention to enter
the ordained ministry. He had preached his first -- and last --
sermon on the Prodigal Son about three months ago at a Saturday
Sabbath service, concluding the sermon by singing "Amazing Grace."
     "Ray was very well-liked, a loving person with a quick wit,"
said Dunn. "He had a strong sense of assurance God loved him and
knew how to share that love with others." He also was interested
in drama, liked to participate in skits and "wrote some really
good poetry."
     Ray was the elder son of Warren and Jane Lathem. Their
younger son, Jared, also is a Reinhardt College student.
     Like Ray Lathem, Carlos Gonzalez was a beloved part of the
Mt. Pisgah congregation, a booming church that has grown from a
membership of 250 to 3,300 in the 13 years Warren Lathem has been
senior pastor. Ray Lathem played the conga drums for the Saturday
night Hispanic services led by Gonzalez.
     "It's a tragic loss of both those young men," said North
Georgia Bishop J. Lloyd Knox. "Ray had felt called to go into the
ministry, and Carlos was already a pastor of the Hispanic
congregation. He was going to enter Candler School of Theology
this fall and was one of the most gifted young men. He had a good
theology, a good knowledge of the Bible, and was an excellent
     Gonzalez' gifts and calling had meshed with the aspiration of
Mt. Pisgah's senior pastor to reach out to Hispanics in the
     "There is a sizable Hispanic population in Alpharetta and
Roswell that is not being reached effectively with the gospel of
Christ," said Dunn. "That's what we were trying to do with Carlos.
We were using Carlo's gifts at Mt. Pisgah while at the same time
helping him with his seminary education and training."
     Gonzalez, and his wife Carrol, had planned to return to
Venezuela in three to five years where they would continue their
Christian ministry. In Gonzalez' memory, a planned celebration for
the Hispanic ministry's one-year anniversary will take place
Saturday, May 18.
     Memorial services for both Lathem and Gonzalez were held May
15 at Mt. Pisgah.
     The couple accompanying Lathem and Gonzalez on the plane,
Dana and Roger Lane, who had been married less than a year, were
looking into the possibility of spending a year or two in
Venezuela as missionaries teaching English. He was a
representative of a pharmaceutical company, and she worked as a
job placement specialist with Atlanta Alliance of Developmental
     They were already active in the Hispanic ministry at Mt.
Pisgah and planned to join the church.
     The three members of St. Paul Church in Gainesville had been
on a cruise to the Bahamas with other acquaintances from
Gainesville.  While the trio had decided to return on the doomed
ValuJet flight, others on the cruise had decided to spend
additional time in Miami. One of the people that stayed behind was
another St. Paul member, Mary Tiner, who was also a close friend
of Wolfe's.
     All of them enjoyed traveling, said St. Paul's pastor, the
Rev. Clayton Gilmer, and often went on trips together.
     He described his congregation as being "in a state of shock.
These people were very active. They all attended the 11 a.m.
worship, and I knew when I got in the pulpit where to look to see
them." They also were active in the Anglers Sunday School class,
largely made up of retired people and the Prime Timers.
     The Stanleys had three daughters while Wolfe was the mother
of two sons.   
     A memorial service for the Stanleys is scheduled for Friday,
May 17, while the service for Wolfe will take place the next day.
      The deaths of the Gainesville and Alpharetta United
Methodists were not the only multiple family tragedies of the
crash. One entire five-member family from Marietta perished, as
did four members of a family from Conyers and an older couple from
Miami, Conway and Anna Hamilton, 85 and 78 respectively.
     The Hamiltons were flying to Atlanta for their
granddaughter's graduation from Emory University.
                              #  #  #

     * Smith is executive director of the Georgia United
Methodists Communications Council.


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