Thanks to Lent, Georgia couple at fish fry when home burned

A Cessna Citation I, crashed into a suburban Marietta neighborhood Friday evening, killing the pilot and setting a house ablaze, officials said. Investigators have not released the name of the pilot killed. The homeowners, Norm and Barbara Keller, were at church when the plane crashed. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

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A Cessna Citation I, crashed into a suburban Marietta neighborhood Friday evening, killing the pilot and setting a house ablaze, officials said. Investigators have not released the name of the pilot killed. The homeowners, Norm and Barbara Keller, were at church when the plane crashed. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Marietta residents Norm and Barbara Keller were not at home Friday when a twin-engine plane spiraled into their front yard, setting their home ablaze. They thank God for that.

The Kellers were having dinner at St. Joseph Catholic Church, a common practice for observant Catholics during Lent, a period of religious reflection leading up to Easter.

“We went to our local church’s fish fry and then we did the Stations of the Cross,” Norm Keller said, referring to the practice among some Christians of symbolically tracing the steps of Jesus Christ’s life leading up to the Crucifixion.

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Norman Keller (Credit: St. Joseph Catholic Church)

Norman Keller (Credit: St. Joseph Catholic Church)

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Norman Keller (Credit: St. Joseph Catholic Church)

The plane, a twin-engine Cessna Citation I, reportedly was flying from Cincinnati to Fulton County Airport about 17 miles away from the Keller home when it spiraled into the suburban Cobb County neighborhood. The pilot, 78-year-old Robert George Westlake of Atlanta, was killed. Investigators said Westlake radioed moments before the crash that he was having trouble with his autopilot.

Flames spread from the crash and consumed the Kellers’ home. Norm Keller said he and his wife wondered whether they would have been quick enough to make it out of the house without injury.

Although the Kellers lost virtually everything in their home for the past decade, Norm, a deacon at St. Joseph, said he hopes prayers from the community go to Westlake and his family.

“The house and all of this stuff can be replaced. The poor pilot’s family have to go through this grief and they need more support,” he said. “We’ll do all right. We have each other and we have family and community and church.”

For now, the Kellers are staying with their daughter and plan to remain in the area. Norm Keller said their church, neighbors and the broader community have been very supportive.

When they went to have their prescription medicines replaced at their local Publix, the store waved its fees and gave the Kellers flowers, lunch and a gift card. That and the support of family and friends is evidence of the “grace of God,” he said.

“This is what the Scripture tells us,” he said.

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The family of a pilot killed in a plane crash is speaking about his character and professionalism.

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