Biola filmmaker and team member live, pilots die in Kenya plane crash

A 2008 Biola film major grad, Dan Parris, 25, and his friend were injured in a plane crash just outside Nairobi, Kenya Saturday while shooting photos for their documentary “Give A Damn?” on poverty in Africa.

Kathryn Watson, Writer

A 2008 Biola film major grad, Dan Parris, 25, and his friend were injured in a plane crash just outside Nairobi, Kenya Saturday while shooting photos for their documentary “Give A Damn?” on poverty in Africa.

Parris broke his collar bone and Rob Lehr, 26, his team member and close friend since high school, sustained various burns and cuts, requiring six stitches on his head. One of the plane’s pilots was killed on impact and the other seriously injured. Parris, according to Twitter updates from Thursday, is feeling better and Lehr is being discharged after the hospital kept him for having an emotional breakdown. They will return to the U.S. to be reunited with friends and family as soon as their health permits. A “successful” meeting took place as of Friday morning PST to discuss the future of the documentary, according to a Twitter update.

The four were flying over Kibera, one of the world’s largest slums, when the small craft stalled unexpectedly, according to a blog post from Tim Peterka, another “Give A Damn?” team member. After the wing struck a telephone pole, the plane crashed into the side of an apartment building. It then fell several stories to the ground, flipped upside down and caught fire. Lehr, the only conscious one aboard the plane after the impact, managed to pull Parris and the surviving pilot out of the plane just five minutes before it exploded. Parris and Lehr expressed their hope that the crash would rally people to their cause.

“It’s making the hospital suck less to know that you guys are telling our story,” they wrote in a Twitter update Sunday night. Don’t forget to talk about our GAD [“Give A Damn?”] goals.”

The jist of the documentary in process, “Give A Damn?” is about an idealist activist (Parris) convincing one of his best friends (Lehr), who doesn’t give a rip about the poor an ocean away, to venture to Africa with him and live on $1.25 a day. Parris has held a passion for Africa for two and a half years now, ever since attending a Sundance Film Festival he found inspiring. Raised in the church, he longed for the average American to have a heart for the impoverished in Africa. Lehr, who claimed he doesn’t believe in God, wanted to see the poverty first hand before forming an opinion as to how Americans should respond to those in need, as The Chimes previously reported.

Abe Sherman, a 2008 Biola grad, witnessed Parris’ and Lehr’s character in action during the summer of 2007 as they shot a $50,000 medieval war film which was never completed. Parris, who had originally come onboard as just a background photographer, ended up directing the film when it began to crumble. Lehr, who built about 20 bows and a medieval encampment for the film, “was another one of the saving graces on the project,” Sherman said. “Both him and Dan, they were the two best guys on the project. Their spirits were up, they were so helpful, if you asked them to do something, they’d put 110 percent into it. … I was just very impressed.”

While Sherman was shocked to hear news of the crash, he realized the possibility of danger was part of the project.

“I know that the nature of the project was very ambitious. It was risky, and part of the meaning behind it was that they were putting themselves out there and kind of putting themselves in the shoes of people in the third world, and with that comes risk.”

Sherman said the qualities which were so evident during filming in Michigan came in handy in Africa too.

“I definitely always remember Rob as probably the MacGyver slash Jack Bauer on our film project. It didn’t surprise me at all when I heard he managed to stay conscious during that plane crash and saved other people’s lives. I’m like ‘yeah, that’s Rob.’”

Peterka was supposed to be on the flight, according to an interview with his father, Dan, but said he felt he should stay behind and let Lehr, who fears flying, take his place. The doors of the plane were propped open for shooting purposes at the time of the crash, which probably saved their lives, Lehr reportedly said. The pilot managed to land just outside the slum, likely preventing numerous deaths. Locals soon arrived on the scene to help.

“It was traumatic just to see those pictures and everything, but it’s just a miracle that they came out of that,” said Parris’ dad, Doug Parris, in an interview with NBC.

“Give A Damn” workers reported that all equipment onboard was destroyed in the explosion. Peterka and his brother, David, were in Nairobi at the time of the crash and plan to continue filming once their friends are safely taken to the U.S. for recovery. On his blog, Peterka encouraged people to continue to follow their experience in Africa over the next four months on Twitter, keyword “GiveADamnDoc.”
Sherman expressed his hope that people would find inspiration in their story.

“That’s a horrible thing that’s happened, but I bet it’s bringing more attention to their cause because people know what they were doing,” he said.

Links:
Donations to the families of the pilots, to cover emergency expenses and to help the filmmaking continue can be made online at: http://www.giveadamndoc.com/.

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