UPDATE: Kenya crash injures Missouri filmmakers, kills pilot

Monday, August 3, 2009 | 4:08 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — Two documentary filmmakers from Missouri are being treated for burns and other injuries after surviving a plane crash in Kenya that killed the pilot and seriously injured another passenger.

A Christian missions group, Africa Inland Mission International, said Monday that 35-year-old Frank Toews died Saturday when the Cessna 206 crashed. Ryan Williams, a mechanic for the group, suffered serious burns and a fractured pelvis, but his prognosis is good.

The St. Louis-area filmmakers, 25-year-old Dan Parris of Chesterfield and 26-year-old Rob Lehr of Ballwin, remained hospitalized in Nairobi. Lehr said by telephone that he has stitches in his head and burns, and Parris has a broken collarbone and internal pain, which doctors are still trying to diagnose.

Their film crew left St. Louis on July 5 to begin filming "Give a Damn," a documentary about the more than 1 billion people worldwide who live on less than $1.25 a day. The two filmmakers were living on that sum as part of the project, in which they were looking at causes and solutions of extreme poverty on three continents.

After weeks of filming in the United States and Europe, the filmmakers made their way to Africa. On Saturday, the pilot took Parris and Lehr up in a small plane to shoot aerial photography of the slum area of Kibera. It's thought that Williams, the mechanic, just joined them for the flight.

With permission, the filmmakers gathered footage through the plane's open doors. Lehr said the pilot had told them he would do some "cruising" to allow them to get better shots, so Lehr said he wasn't worried when the engine slowed.

He realized something was wrong when the plane was about 50 feet away from buildings. The plane struck power lines, and then Lehr said "it felt like playing football but being hit on six or seven different sides."

The plane struck the side of an apartment building as it crashed. Lehr said Kenyans immediately came to their aid. No one on the ground was hurt.

Although he was injured, Lehr unfastened his seat belt and tried to assist the others. He remembered thinking: "Something told me what you do right now matters."

He helped Parris, who had been knocked out but regained consciousness and then reached through flames to try to rescue Williams.

Lehr couldn't release Williams from the wreckage, but later learned others did. Kenyans rushed the filmmakers by car to a hospital. The pilot, who had worked for AIM AIR since 2003, was killed instantly.

Toews is survived by a wife and four children. A memorial service in Kenya is planned, the missions group said in a statement from its U.S. headquarters in Pearl River, N.Y.

The cause of the crash is unknown.

The filmmakers say others will continue the project.

"I'm mentally unable to go forward with it, and Dan is physically unable," Lehr said.

Parris' father, Doug Parris, 47, of the St. Louis suburb of University City, said it was frustrating to be so far away from his son, whose injuries have been difficult for doctors to diagnose.

He believes the documentary will move forward. "They definitely want to continue with their purpose and their mission," the elder Parris said.


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