By Roger Miller
LINCOLN — Two men were injured in a plane crash near a Lincoln church where congregation members, including children, were worshipping Wednesday night.
The crash took place before 7:30 p.m. in the parking lot of Open Arms Christian Fellowship, a nondenominational Christian church operating in the former chapel of Lincoln Christian University. The plane, a single-engine Piper Cherokee Six, came to rest, nose-down with a sheared-off left wing and other damage, in a landscaped area of the parking lot.
Clyde Zellers, principal avionics inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration in Springfield, who was at the scene Wednesday night, said the plane came down about a quarter-mile from the Logan County Airport while trying to approach.
“We don’t know why the airplane came to rest where it is,” he said. “We’re trying to ascertain that.”
He confirmed that the two men were taken to Springfield to be treated for injuries that, according to initial reports, were not considered life-threatening.
The flight tracking website Flight Aware showed a single-engine plane taking off from the Logan County Airport at 6:23 p.m. Its flight path appeared to circle the community several times, ultimately ending on the community’s southeast side at 7:27 p.m.
The Rev. Larry Crawford, co-lead pastor of Open Arms Christian Fellowship, said the church was holding its regular Wednesday evening services for its children’s ministry, as well as some adult ministries, at the time of the crash. About 100 to 150 people were inside the building.
No one inside was injured, and there was minimal property damage.
“Honestly, it’s a miracle of God,” Crawford said.
He said he was inside at the time of the crash and, while he did not hear it happen, arrived on the scene immediately afterward. Church members called 911 and tried to offer assistance to those inside the plane.
Crawford praised the fast response of emergency services, as well as church leaders who kept the children away from the situation.
“It’s a miracle all the way around,” Crawford said. “We pray over our city on a weekly basis, really a daily basis. Honestly, it’s a miracle the way the plane was able to land and where it landed and that everyone was out of the way.”
The plane came to rest on top of a raised brick flower bed, which it demolished, and surrounded by three trees, some shrubs and a gazebo, all of which appeared undamaged.
The church building previously served as the chapel for Lincoln Christian University. Open Arms began to operate out of the building in June and purchased it, along with several other buildings on the university campus, in February, Crawford said.
Lincoln Christian University President Silas McCormick confirmed that the church building had been part of the university campus until February, when it was sold to Open Arms. University leaders reached out to the church leaders on Wednesday night to offer any assistance needed in the crash aftermath, he said.
The Lincoln Police Department, Lincoln Fire Department and Logan County Emergency Management Agency responded to the scene.