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Monday, June 27, 2011
Pals laud strength of Indiana hoops star

Associated Press

DETROIT -- An Indiana basketball standout injured in a plane crash that killed his father bounced back from a similar tragedy eight years ago to establish strong relationships with many people are ready to support him, friends said Monday.

Austin Hatch, 16, was the lone survivor of a small plane crash Friday in Michigan that killed his father and stepmother. He and his father survived a similar crash in 2003 in Indiana that killed his mother and two siblings. His father, Dr. Stephen Hatch, was the pilot both times.

Austin has been in a drug-induced coma at a Traverse City hospital, where classmates gathered Monday. Described as an A student and outstanding athlete, the high school junior recently made an early commitment to play basketball at the University of Michigan in 2013.

The Hatch family issued a statement Monday afternoon saying he remains in critical condition but is recovering.

Trent VanHorn, Austin's teammate at Canterbury School in Fort Wayne, said he hoped his best friend would pull through again.

"He's definitely one of the toughest guys I know," said VanHorn, 16. "We've known each other our whole lives. If there's anyone who can make it through this tragedy ... it's definitely him."

VanHorn, along with Davis Rao and Barrett Colby, two other teammates and close friends at the hospital, said their families and others were ready to open their hearts and homes to Austin when he was released.

"Even though none of us can replace the loss of his father and mother ... we know we're all going to be there for him no matter what," Rao said.

The Hatches were flying last week to their summer home on Walloon Lake in Michigan's Lower Peninsula, where Stephen Hatch and his brothers owned property, when the single-engine Beechcraft A36 Bonanza flew into a garage near the Charlevoix Municipal Airport.

The Hatches were returning from that home in 2003 when their plane crashed in Indiana.

Although Austin lost his mother and siblings Lindsay, 11, and Ian, 5, in that plane crash, he shared his father's passion for flying and Smith Field Airport near Fort Wayne. The elder Hatch led a campaign several years ago to save the small, historic airport and bought the Smith Field Service Center and its flight school.

"We'd be out on the golf course, he'd be looking up, see a plane and know exactly what it was," VanHorn said of his friend. "When his dad had plans to get new planes, he was always really excited about it."

While Austin didn't discuss the earlier crash at length, Colby said the topic wasn't off limits. He remembered Austin saying his mother was in "a better place with his brother and sister" and that he believed his brother would have been a better basketball player than he was.

"I think it built him, pushed him to go farther and do what he's doing now," Colby said.

VanHorn said Austin stayed with his family for a while after the first crash. The two are the same age, but VanHorn said Austin was in some ways more like an older brother.

"He was forced to mature with that happening early in his life," VanHorn said. "Although we're really close friends, I really look up to him. I see him as role model for me."