Monday, 24 August 2009


LAKE FOREST – A pilot who devoted himself to flying to help people around the world is remembered as being inspirational and bringing out the best in others.
Robert Earl Lehnhart, 76, spent decades flying for Mission Aviation Fellowship – a worldwide organization of missionaries that brings, medicine, emergency supplies, food and community development to people in developing countries.
Lehnhart died following a boating accident in Alaska on Tuesday.
Lehnhart joined the fellowship in 1960 and first flew on missions to Brazil. He flew to Ecuador in the mid 1960s. He left the organization in the early 1970s and returned as its director in 1981. He left again in 1985 a formed AirServ – a similar missionary organization.
Several PBS and other channels showed Lehnhart's and AirServ's humanitarian role with aviation in isolated areas of the world He was a graduate of Bryan University in Dayton, TN and later got his masters from The Johns Hopkins University. Recently, Lehnhart served as adjunct professor at Concordia and other universities.
Lehnhart, 76, died on Tuesday after the boat he and other family members were riding in flipped in choppy waters off the coast of Juneau, AK, trapping him underneath, according to information from the Alaska State Troopers. Wind at the time was blowing at about 16 knots and waves were about three. The boat had taken on several large waves.
Rescuers performed CPR as they took Lehnhart to a local hospital but he was pronounced dead a short time later.
In a Christmas message to his family last year, Lehnhart detailed some of his life's experiences in an email he called "The Evolution and Final Days of a Famine Fighter."
"Then we went with MAF to Brazil to fly for missions in the Southern end of the Amazon jungle. The Chavante tribe had never been in contact with civilization and had only come out of the jungle a few years earlier. Why?" he wrote. "They had been attacked by rubber hunters and land surveyors hired by the wealthy business men from the cities. They fought back for years to protect their land but had no chance with their bows, arrows and clubs against the guns of their 'civilized' attackers."
Gene Jordan, a MAF pilot and personnel director of the group, met Lehnhart as a teen in Ecuador where he lived with his missionary parents.
"He was a serious thinker and a good pilot. He always said the airplane was only a tool to impact people. I looked up to him. He was what I wanted to be."
Lehnhart was active in Mission Viejo's Presbyterian Church of the Master. He worked with the church's Christian education program. He worked with a faith-based group in San Juan Capistrano that worked to strengthen families there.
Pastor John McKeague of Church of the Master said Lehnhart always had a clear, sharp mind and a great smile. He was the kind of guy you could start a conversation with and he'd always be interested, McKeague said.
"He brought out the best in us," McKeague said. "He was a real mover and shaker. He pushed the envelope. He looked out for those who were shuffled away though the business of life. A deep love for the Lord bubbled out of him. He was a real light among us."
Services for Lehnhart will be held at 1 p.m. on Aug. 29 at the Presbyterian Church of the Master, 26051 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo.