DERBY, Kan. (AP) — A traveling California faith healer and his pilot died Friday morning when their small Texas-bound plane crashed soon after taking off from a Kansas airport, authorities said.
Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter identified the victims as 72-year-old minister Edward Dufresne, a faith healer who said he could cure cancer, and 49-year-old pilot Mitchell Morgan, both of Murrieta, Calif.
The 1975 plane climbed to 16,500 feet before witnesses reported hearing "an explosion" and then pieces of the aircraft falling out of the sky, Easter said. There were no distress calls before the plane began a rapid descent and disappeared from the radar.
The plane crashed about 20 miles southeast of Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport in a soybean field near Derby. Easter said deputies found additional debris, including a wing, about a mile from the impact site.
"There is nothing left of the plane whatsoever," Easter said. "It's a huge crater, and everything is debris."
Dufresne ran a website that encouraged his followers to donate monthly to his Eagle Partner Club to "fund an aviation department of Ed Dufresne Ministries" to allow him to preach and conduct faith healing in other countries. Dufresne says on the fundraising page, which is embedded with video of a small private plane flying and taxiing, that he has 11 million airline miles "on his bones" and adds that he has been called as a traveling minister to spend 80 percent of his time away from home.
"As you can imagine, flying this many miles commercially has many challenges. Several years ago, God spoke to me about creating a room of anointing in the sky. I realized He was talking to me about changing the way in which I travel to cater to the assignment and anointing He has placed on my life," he wrote.
Dufresne also ran the World Harvest Church in Murrieta, about 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles. A woman who answered the phone at the church said no information was available.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro said the two-engine Cessna 500 was headed to New Braunfels, Texas. According to the itinerary on Dufresne's website, he spoke Thursday night at the Triumphant Faith Center in Wichita and his next stop was Word & Spirit Church in Schertz, Texas. The churches didn't immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press.
Molinaro said the FAA was sending people to the scene. He said the National Transportation Safety Board will lead the investigation, which could take several weeks.