Liberty trustee dies in plane crash

Pilot — Tom Coble stands with Trey Falwell and Jerry Falwell Jr. at the Lynchburg Airshow last May. Coble was a long-time supporter of Liberty’s School of Aeronautics with 42 years of flying experience. He flew his L-39 Albatross jet to the airshow. Photo credit: Becki Falwell

Tom Coble best remembered for his love of flying and his service to other people

Liberty University Board of Trustees member and 1976 graduate Tom Coble died in a plane crash near Gadsden, Ala. on Friday, Jan. 20.

Coble, 58, was returning to North Carolina after taking his L-39 Albatross fighter jet for routine maintenance when the plane caught fire and crashed moments after takeoff. With more than 42 years of flying experience, Coble was “happiest when in the cockpit,” according to a statement released by his construction company Coble Trench Safety.

“He often joked with friends and family that he stayed in business to support his flying habit,” the release said.

Coble was Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr.’s executive pilot for three years following his graduation.

“Tom flew my father and some of Liberty’s earliest student singing groups around the country to spread the word about the new college in a World War II vintage DC-3 airplane,” Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. told Liberty’s News Service. “I learned in 2008 that Tom had become a successful businessman, and I asked him to serve on Liberty’s Board of Trustees. He agreed and provided important leadership to the university in recent years.”

A strong supporter of Liberty’s School of Aeronautics, Coble spoke at the school’s graduation ceremony in 2010 and offered the winner of Liberty’s 2010 Pilot of the Year award, John Iazzi, a flight in his L-39 jet.

Airshow — Coble’s L-39 Albatross sits on the tarmac during the airshow last May. Photo credit: Ben Lesley

“When I flew with Tom back in May 2010, I was impressed not only with his skill and professionalism in the cockpit, but also with his attitude toward others,” Iazzi said. “He loved Christ, and it was apparent in his kindness and generosity.”

Iazzi, now a flight instructor at Liberty, spoke with Coble on several occasions following their 2010 meeting.

“He typically flew his jet in for LU board meetings, and even with his busy schedule, he was always interested to hear how I was doing and what my plans were,” Iazzi said. “Tom was a highly motivated individual, and through his enthusiasm he encouraged others. He will be greatly missed.”

Trey Falwell also flew with Coble after the Lynchburg Airshow last May and was able to fly Coble’s jet himself.

“It was a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience that Trey will never forget,” Falwell told Liberty’s News Service.

Coble was also heavily involved in politics as the co-founder and treasurer of the Coalition of Concerned Christians Political Action Committee and Foundation (CCC) located in Burlington, N.C. Established in 1980, the CCC has researched and evaluated political candidates in an attempt to recommend candidates “committed to the preservation of liberty and morality in this country,” according to the coalition’s website.

“Tom had such a huge love for Jesus and kingdom work,” Liberty alumna and former CCC employee Sarah Abare said. “He wanted to influence the world for God in any way he could. He was so generous and kind and his loss will be felt by so many people.”

Coble combined his love for flying with his love of serving other people through his involvement with Veterans Airlift Command — a group of volunteer aircraft owners and pilots who provide medical and other transportation for wounded warriors, veterans and their families.

“I have heard numerous stories about how Tom helped individuals and ministries in need. He was a family man who kept a low profile but he quietly helped others whenever he could,” Falwell said to Liberty’s News Service. “Tom will be greatly missed by Liberty University and by the Falwell family. Thousands of us here are praying for the Coble family.”

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