For more than five hours Saturday, Trent VanHorn tried to keep his mind at rest, knowing what awaited him at the end of his 320-mile drive would be more emotional than anything a high school junior should have to endure.

And he knew his best friend would need him more than ever.

On Friday night, VanHorn's teammate, Austin Hatch, was involved in the second fatal plane accident of his young life. A 1975 Beech A36 fixed-wing, single-engine plane carrying Hatch -- a Michigan basketball recruit -- along with his father and stepmother, crashed in Northern Michigan en route to the family's summer home.

Hatch's father, the pilot, and stepmother were killed. Austin, 16, is now in critical condition in a Traverse City hospital. As of Monday afternoon, he was still in the ICU.

How could this be happening? VanHorn wonders.

And how could this be happening again?

In 2003, a plane also piloted by Hatch's father crashed while the family was traveling back to Fort Wayne from its summer home. The crash killed Austin's mother, Julie, and his 11-year-old sister and 5-year-old brother.

Now, eight years later, Austin survived again, but again, he lost members of his family.

Hatch has no living siblings or parents left.


The small plane carrying three passengers left Fort Wayne Friday afternoon, headed for the small ski town of Boyne Falls, where summer homes dot the landscape.

According to an FAA spokesman, the plane crashed nose-first into a garage along a residential street in Charlevoix -- about 30 miles shy of the plane's destination -- shortly after 8 p.m.

A National Weather Service meteorologist told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette that at the time of the crash, a moderate rain was falling. He estimated visibility was about two miles and that skies at 200 feet were overcast.

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"At first, I was totally shocked," said VanHorn, a classmate and teammate of Hatch's at Canterbury School, a private school located in southwest Fort Wayne.

"I never expected that this would ever happen again."

Austin Hatch has never discussed the first crash with Dan Kline, who took over the Canterbury boy's basketball program in 2010 after coaching at Indiana Tech for the previous 18 seasons.

A federal report completed in 2005 concluded that the prior crash had occurred due to inaccurate pre-flight planning, resulting in the plane not having enough fuel.

The National Transportation Safety Board reported the plane clipped a power pole during its forced landing and that darkness and a low ceiling may have also factored into the fatal crash.

Austin, who is described by those who know him best as both tough and mature beyond his years, never showed outward signs of the pain buried deep inside him.

Coaches who had recruited Austin told Kline that sitting down with Hatch was like meeting with a 25-year-old man.

Cruel circumstances had forced Austin to grow up early. They had left him to lean on his father, who Kline said, was more like a brother.

There was no doubt in Kline's mind that Austin would somehow, almost miraculously, find a way to cope with the second life-altering tragedy of his young life.

"I know he'll handle it," Kline said in a phone interview Saturday evening from his Fort Wayne home. "He's a strong kid. For only being 16 years old, he’s a man.

"He always accepts a challenge."

This time, though, he must survive and move forward alone.

"I don't know how he will do it because he's on his own now," Kline said. "But he will find a way. That's just the kind of person he is."

Austin rarely -- if ever -- discussed the incident that shattered his childhood at age 8.

VanHorn can't remember a time when the two buddies who started school together at a young age and who have been close ever since had ever talked over the details of the accident that took his mother and brother and sister.

VanHorn never brought it up, figuring that if Austin wanted to talk about it, he would.

Like any best friend, VanHorn would be there to listen. But he didn't want to force the issue.

Instead, VanHorn let Austin heal at his own pace.

"I never thought it was necessary for us to talk about it -- it was better for me to just be there for him and support him any way I could," VanHorn said Saturday night after spending the day at the hospital in Traverse City, a resort town five hours north of Fort Wayne.

"I just wanted to be the best friend I could."

Now, eight years later, traveling to Munson Medical Center in Traverse City was the only way VanHorn knew how to be there for Austin.

Back in Fort Wayne, Kline did his best to monitor the situation from afar. But even with the updates he received from the hospital and the phone calls he placed to those who had traveled to Northern Michigan, Kline wasn't getting much.

All he knew is that his 6-foot-6 wing whose dream it was to play at Michigan was nowhere close to being out of the woods.

Those at the hospital called to tell him that the next 24-48 hours would be critical. As of Saturday evening, Kline wasn't even sure that Austin knew his father and stepmother had been killed.

But he knew one thing about Austin.

He would survive.


"He always seems to know how to handle situations," Kline said. "How is he going to deal with this? I don’t know yet. It's going to shock him, but he’s pretty strong. He'll handle it.

"I know I keep saying that and that it’s hard to believe, but he will handle it."

VanHorn was amazed how Austin managed to cope with everything.

"I know we're the same age and everything, but he's my role model," VanHorn said.

Stephen Hatch and his son both believed Austin was meant to go to Michigan -- the same school his mother and two of his grandparents attended.

It was all Stephen, a Fort Wayne doctor, talked about. When Austin committed to Michigan on June 15, he talked of following his father's path in a career in medicine.

In a press release his father released when he announced his decision to play basketball at Michigan starting in 2013, Austin talked of having the opportunity to help the Wolverines return to national prominence. He had also received attention from Notre Dame and Virginia.

But from the start, Michigan was his dream destination.

"There is much work ahead and I thank God everyday for the ability to play basketball and the opportunities it provides me for education and beyond," Austin said in the release.

Now, nothing is for certain.

As he sat next to teammate Davis Rao in the back of his father's SUV, VanHorn tried not to let his thoughts drift into negativity. Few words were spoken.

"It was a long ride and it was almost like everyone was in their own little world," VanHorn said. "You never want to allow yourself to think about the worst so all you can do is think that Austin is going to make it through this.

"Right now, everything sounds pretty good. But you never know."

VanHorn expects that more of his Canterbury teammates will join him and Rao on Sunday. Kline suspects he will make the long drive north himself on Monday.

In the meantime, he waits and hopes.

As do his players.

Last year as a sophomore, Austin Hatch averaged 23.3 points and 9.3 points per game, helping lead Canterbury to a 17-5 record and the school's first boys sectional championship. With two years left in his high school career and his immediate family now gone, Kline expects Austin's teammates to play a critical role in supporting him.

For now, they wait. And pray.

"This is a really close group and they all know what Austin means to our team -- not only as a player, but as a person," Kline said. "They're all hurting right now, but they're optimistic.

"They believe he’s going to make it."