Christian diet guru and founder of the Remnant Fellowship church in California, Gwen Shamblin Lara is thought to have died in a plane crash on Saturday.
Shamblin Lara was travelling with her husband, actor Joe Lara and six other members of the church to Palm Beach International Airport when the small jet crashed into Percy Lake, in Tennessee.
The six others have been identified as Jennifer J. Martin, David L. Martin, Jessica Walters, Jonathan Walters and Brandon Hannah.
Authorities said they have transitioned from a “rescue mission” to a “recovery mission” as all passengers are presumed dead.
It has been reported that Shamblin Lara’s daughter Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah, who is also the wife of one of the victims, sent a text to all members of the church asking for prayers as the plane had to go down for “a controlled, quick landing”.
"More information to come but be in prayer -- and be at peace," Hannah's message continued.
In a statement, Remnant Fellowship church described the victims as “some of the finest and most loving people that you would ever come across” and said the memory of their founder Shamblin Lara “will definitely remain for a long time”.
“Gwen Shamblin Lara was one of the world’s most kind, gentle, and selfless mother and wife, and a loyal, caring, supportive best friend to all. She lived every day laying down her own life to ensure that others could find a relationship with God.
“Because of that, her memory will definitely remain for a long time as she has a place in millions of people’s hearts around the world through her work with Weigh Down Ministries and Remnant Fellowship Church. Her wonderful and supportive husband, Joe Lara, will also be greatly missed,” the statement reads.
Shamblin Lara founded the church in 1999 along with her Weigh Down Ministries, a faith-based diet which faced criticism many times for being a business. She wrote various books on Christian diet, integrating a range of weight loss programmes with Bible teachings.
She referred to the starvation of Jews in Nazi concentration camps to argue that genetics do not play a role in weight loss. During an interview with CNN she said: “"How in the Holocaust did you have all these people getting down real skinny? They ate less food."
Her church has also been the subject of controversy. Many believed she was leading a cult as a recording of her threatening church members with disciplinary action came to light.
"I have not been put in this position because I'm going to put up with you all's disobedience. If I hear of it, then I will correct it. If I have to come to you, then you're really in trouble," her recording stated.
In their statement, the church has vowed to continue Shamblin Lara’s ministry: “Finally, as far as Remnant Fellowship Church and Weigh Down Ministries are concerned, Michael Shamblin and Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah, Gwen’s two children, and the church leadership intend to continue the dream that Gwen Shamblin Lara had of helping people find a relationship with God.”
The search for the bodies continues.