DETROIT — A standout Indiana high school basketball player with the promise of playing at the University of Michigan is fighting for his life after surviving the second plane crash of his young life.
Austin Hatch, 16, of Fort Wayne, Ind., was in critical condition Saturday in a northern Michigan hospital after the Friday evening crash that killed his father, Dr. Stephen Hatch, and his stepmother, Kim. Austin and his pilot father had survived a 2003 crash that killed Austin’s mother and two siblings.
“He never talked about [the previous crash] one time,” said Dan Kline, the basketball coach at Canterbury School in Fort Wayne, Ind. “I’m sure he carried it inside.”
Kline told the Associated Press that the next 24 to 48 hours are going to be critical, and described Austin as an A student who is physically and mentally strong — someone “who can handle things.”
“He’s a very mature young man,” he said. “You’d never know he was 16 years old.”
The teen was “the apple of his dad’s eye,” and Stephen Hatch took great delight and pride in his son’s athletic accomplishments, Dr. G. David Bojrab, a colleague and close friend of Austin’s father, told The Associated Press.
Austin, a junior at Canterbury, committed earlier this month to play basketball at Michigan, where his father and mother went to school.
He told the Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne for a story published last week that he talked to Michigan coach John Beilein by phone and accepted a full-ride scholarship. It was the first day that NCAA coaches could call recruits for the 2013 class, the newspaper said.
“It was a very special moment for me,” Hatch told the newspaper. “There was no reason to wait. There’s nothing I don’t like about their program, and I couldn’t turn it down.”
Kline, who spoke with Michigan coaches before the offer, told the newspaper it was Austin’s “dream” to play for Michigan.
“They didn’t come right out and say it, but they told me he was a top priority in the state of Indiana,” he said. “They kept dropping hints.”
Kline said Saturday the team is stunned.
“Right now, we’re just trying to collect our thoughts and stick together,” he said. “They’re a close-knit group.”
Bojrab said the Hatches were flying to their summer home on Walloon Lake in Michigan’s northwestern Lower Peninsula, where Stephen Hatch and his brothers all owned property, when his single-engine Beechcraft A36 Bonanza flew into a garage near the Charlevoix Municipal Airport. It was the same home Stephen Hatch and the family were returning from nearly eight years ago when they crashed in Indiana.
“He was such a strong proponent of flying and teaching people to fly. … I think he felt compelled to continue his passion,” said Bojrab, a partner with Hatch in Pain Management Associates in Fort Wayne.
“He felt compelled to show people that accidents do happen. He didn’t want people to look in the other direction.”
A 2005 federal report on the September 2003 crash found inaccurate preflight planning resulted in the plane not having enough fuel. The National Transportation Safety Board determined a utility pole the airplane hit during its forced landing, a low ceiling and dark night also contributed to the crash.
Bojrab said his friend disputed the report’s findings, believing equipment failure caused the crash.
“When he crashed, it was an inferno, which makes you wonder how he could have been out of gas,” Bojrab said.
Hatch saved Austin, but his other children — Lindsay, 11, and Ian, 5 — died along with his wife, Julie, 38.
“His wife and two children were in flames and he was never able to reach them,” Bojrab said. “Steve reached over to his son who was sitting in front with him and tossed him out the window to save his life.”
Beilein said in a statement that the university was saddened to hear about the tragedy affecting the Hatches. “Austin needs as much support right now as possible and I know he will be in the thoughts and prayers of the Michigan family during this difficult time,” he said.
Canterbury School said in a statement Saturday to “keep Austin and his family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Bojrab said Stephen Hatch had planned to go to Spain to celebrate his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary with the rest of his family, but canceled the trip to spend time with Austin and his adult stepchildren.
“Steve was a very big family man,” Bojrab said.
Another of his passions was Smith Field Airport, a small, historic airport near Fort Wayne. Bojrab said Hatch led a campaign several years ago to save it and bought the Smith Field Service Center and its flight school.
“He saved the property from being developed commercially,” Bojrab said, adding that Hatch was instrumental in getting it on the National Register of Historic Places.
NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said investigators were on the scene Saturday and would be examining the aircraft, interviewing witnesses and requesting air traffic control communications and radar data. He expected a preliminary report within 10 days and a final report determining a cause within 18 months.
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