Sunday, September 6, 2009

"Give a Damn" Founders Survive a Fatal Plane Crash

I first met Dan Parris during my first year at Biola University in a Social Justice Ministry Meeting. He was ridiculously passionate about integrating film with causes for justice, and I knew right away that God would take him on an adventure. Dan took all of his passion, and began to develop a documentary idea that formed into what is now known as, "Give a Damn". 
Dan (left) and Rob (right)

"Give A Damn? is about an idealist activist who convinces one of his best friends, who doesn't give a damn about the poor, to go to Africa and live on a dollar a day."

Almost half of the world's population lives in desperate poverty...Is this our problem?

Give A Damn? is a feature length documentary about the two opposing views towards poverty, seen especially in the Western World. One says "It is everyone's job to do something!" and the other says "Why should I Give A Damn?" Overall, the goal is to make an entertaining, yet compelling film that will reach Americans with a challenge to make caring for the poor a part of their future. Primarily, the film will challenge youth who typically avoid addressing this difficult subject. Hopefully this film will spark a movement that tackles what we believe to be one of the most important issues facing this generation. This film will spark a movement that tackles what we believe to be the most important issue facing this generation."

**Interesting Side Note** - Dan, is the one who cares about the poor, and is a Christian. While Rob, his friend who doesn't care about the poor, is an atheist. 

Dan and friends, worked very hard to raise money, and prepare for this trip to see poverty with their own eyes. As a member of the board of directors for "Rock for Justice", the "Give a Damn" cause was very close to my heart, and I couldn't wait to see what kind of results Dan's team brought back. The adventure began on July 5th, 2009, and was tragically interrupted on August 1st, 2009. 

On their second full day in Nairobi, August 1, 2009, the film crew charters a flight with pilot Frank Toews and flight mechanic Ryan Williams of African Inland Mission Air to gain areal footage of Africa’s largest slum, Kibera. The small Cessna 206 plane had room for only two passengers, and for some unclear reason skilled areal photographer Tim Peterka thought he should stay on the ground that day. Brother David agreed; Lehr should get the areal experience. Lehr, the film’s antagonist, vividly recounts the flight and its crash landing via blog and audio. On the return to Wilson Airport, the plane flew low with no engine hum, struck an electrical pole or wire before spinning to smash into a four story apartment building, flipping to crash upside down. Lehr walked away from the wreckage toward the crowd, stopped and returned to the mangled plane in flames. His actions literally set him afire freeing Parris and returning to free Williams before a few brave Kenyans pulled both to safety as the plane exploded. Police confiscated the rolling camera in Lehr’s hands. Lehr and Parris were rushed to the hospital in a different car from the one transporting Williams. Neither Lehr nor Parris knew the fate of Toews or Williams. Toews died on the plane’s impact. The cause of the crash remains unknown.

The three survivors were transported to the hospital by fast acting bystanders as Lehr posted an update from his mobile phone to social media site Twitter. On arrival Lehr again used his phone to film Parris, who provided additional audio a few hours later. Within hours of the event Lehr’s Nairobi TV debut outside the hospital, containing footage of the crash captured by a bystander’s cell phone and wreckage photos, posts to YouTube. By Parris’s side, Lehr recuperated in the hospital for five days, sustaining cuts, burns, and trauma as the only conscious member of the crash. At first the extent of Parris’s injuries remained uncertain, tests soon revealed fractures in his collar bone and third lumbar as well as a highly bruised and pain filled GI system. Parris ventured out of the hospital on August 13, 2009. Ryan Williams, flight mechanic, fought for his life in a Nairobi hospital with broken bones and extensive burns. Shortly after being medivacd to a burn center in South Africa, Williams succumbed to his injuries on August 7, 2009.

Both Toews and Williams were missionary pilots living with their families in Nairobi, Kenya. African Inland Mission Air (AIM Air), the organization both worked for, is a Christian missionary aviation organization providing air transportation for missionaries, church workers, and Christian relief and development agencies in East and Central Africa based in Nairobi, Kenya. Mission Safety International and the Kenyan Aviation Authorities are investigating the accident. To aid in the investigation AIM AIR suspended flight operations.

Dan and Rob are both home now, and seem to be doing as well as can be expected. You can stay updated through the "Give a Damn" blog, and I will also be posting any announcements as well. 

As for Frank and Ryan's families, they are devastated (of course), but have AMAZED me as they have trusted in the Lord. Ryan's wife has a blog, and it is absolutely an AMAZING thing to read. You can click here to see it, or come back to my blog anytime and find it under the "Inspirational People who Blog" heading. 

Please continue to keep all who were involved in prayer. 

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