How did Gwen Shamblin die? Plane crash revisited ahead of The Way Down's final episodes on HBO Max

Stills from The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin (Image via HBO Max)
Stills from The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin (Image via HBO Max)

HBO Max's new documentary, The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin, starts with news coverage in which the show's protagonist Shamblin dies of a plane crash in which the into Percy Priest Lake near Nashville, Tennessee. The plane crash was all but forgotten until the very end of the documentary, which spends the next three hours investigating the cult-like Remnant Fellowship Church. This insular religious community promotes weight loss through reliance on God.

After two decades at the helm of Remnant, Lara's reign came to an abrupt end on May 29, 2021. Here's what happened in the plane crash and where Remnant Fellowship Church stands, several months after several of its leaders died.

How did Gwen Shamblin die?

Gwen Shamblin Lara was a dietician who founded Weigh Down, a faith-based weight-loss program for people with obesity and eating disorders. Weigh Down has assisted thousands of people in safely losing weight since its inception in 1992. Lara was dubbed the "Pioneer of Faith-Based Weight Loss" after the success of her program.

On May 29, 2021, Lara boarded a Cessna 501 aircraft at the Smyrna Rutherford County Airport in Tennessee with her husband, son-in-law, and two married couples. According to the Tennessean, the group was flying to Florida to attend the Women Fighting for America event, but the plane crashed shortly after takeoff.

At approximately 11 a.m., the plane was seen plunging into Percy Priest Lake near Nashville. According to CNN, a witness who was fishing said he saw the plane crash "straight down" into the lake. The plane's seven passengers were discovered dead.


The air controller gave the pilot instructions to ascend and maintain a height of 15,000 feet five minutes after the Cessna took off. However, the controller received no response, and the plane made no further communications after that.

According to CNN, Cessna was flying at 700 feet and descending at a speed of 31,000 feet per minute when the radar made contact with it. Investigators went to the crash site to figure out what had happened. According to the Medical Examiner's Office, all of the deceased's bodies were discovered inside the plane.

So, where does this leave her legacy?

Shortly after the plane crash, Elizabeth Hannah, Lara's daughter, sent a message to the Remnant Fellowship Church members, asking for prayers. According to Fox News, Elizabeth was unaware of the gravity of the situation and stated that the plane "had to go down for a controlled, quick landing." Brandon, Elizabeth's husband, was one of the crash victims.

Lara's death saddened many, but she left a legacy in the Remnant Fellowship Church and Weigh Down Ministries. According to the Tennessean, Lara's children — Elizabeth Shamblin, Hannah Shamblin, and Michael Shamblin — will continue their mother's religious mission and take over her role in the church. According to Remnant Fellowship followers, Lara was a selfless and caring person who touched the hearts of millions of people. The investigation into the plane crash is still underway.

The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin is all set to premiere on HBO Max on April 28, 2022.

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Edited by Suchitra