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The pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Florida is missing after a small plane he was piloting never showed up at its destination. Rev. Forrest Pollock and his 13-year-old son Preston boarded the plane in North Carolina on Monday and were traveling to a conference in Texas.
The plane never showed up at the Texas airport. An online church bulletin says that searchers are looking in a wooded area 30 miles from where the plane took off.
Pollock, 44, is married and has six children.
Searchers found the wreckage of the Rev. Forrest Pollock's plane and the bodies of the popular pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church and his 13-year old son, Preston, about 20 miles southwest of Asheville, N.C.
The plane was in rugged terrain more than two hours on foot from the nearest access point.
The Rev. George Thomasson, associate pastor of Bell Shoals, stood inside the sanctuary where Pollock normally delivered sermons and, fighting tears, told about 100 staff and church members the grim news.
"We have been given the news that the actual plane was identified, and it is the pastor's plane and that Pastor Forrest and his son Preston were found having died," Thomasson said. "All of our hearts are broken."
The crowd, including Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee, a church member, was openly weeping.
Later, Thomasson told reporters that Pollock flew to North Carolina with Preston and 14-year-old daughter Brooke to visit Pollock's mother. On Monday, he and Preston were to fly to Little Rock, Ark., to pick up another passenger for the flight to a Christian networking conference in Texas.
It was the passenger who initiated the search when he said Pollock never arrived.
"We have not lost Forrest Pollock. We know just where he is. One day there will be a reunion time," Thomasson said.
Gee said the airport in Raleigh, N.C., on Monday received intermittent radio signals but had to cancel an air search because of high winds around the mountains. A helicopter from the North Carolina Highway Patrol found the wreckage.
Gee said Pollock was "well respected and well loved."
The Federal Aviation Administration has closed airspace around the crash site and set up a command center, WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, S.C., reported.
Pollock and and his son left the Rutherford County, N.C., airport early Monday morning.
The Rev. Ken Whitten of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz cried when he learned that the wreckage of his friend's plane had just been found.
"He was a model husband … a motivating pastor," Whitten said through his tears. "He was brilliant."
Pollock was also "a cautious and intelligent pilot," Whitten said.
Pollock has led the large congregation for six years.
The 44-year-old pastor was married with six children.
He was at a wonderful time in his career, friends and colleagues said.
"The church is just booming," said Tom Biles, executive director of Tampa Bay Baptist Association. "They just moved into their new auditorium two weeks ago. ... Both services were jam packed."
Bell Shoals has about 7,500 members, and about 3,000 people attend services each week.
"Bell Shoals has a wonderful fellowship of believers ... outstanding Christian leaders with high integrity," Biles said. "It's been on a growth spurt for several years.
When Pollock got the call to go to Bell Shoals in 2003, he was elated, Whitten said.
"Forrest would tell me, 'I won the lottery!' Not in a material sense, but in a spiritual sense. Congregations know when pastors love them, and Forrest loved his people. And they loved him back.
"Our heart at Idlewild is breaking."
Pollock came to the church with a background in television production.
Pollock became interested in TV production while in high school in Oklahoma, working as a volunteer intern at a TV station. He went on to start his own TV production company and work as a TV reporter and anchor and print reporter "before God called me into ministry," he told The Tampa Tribune in 2007.
After graduating from Southwestern Baptist Seminary in 1994, Pollock served churches in Fort Worth, Texas, for three years and Baton Rouge, La., for five years before joining Bell Shoals.
He has been working toward a master's degree from Harvard University.
Pollock replaced the Rev. Ken Alford as senior pastor. Alford left the position in February 2002 after admitting to an "improper relationship."
Pollock said Bell Shoals never set out to become a "megachurch," but the congregation has grown to that extent.
The church has a satellite facility on East Bay Road, where Pollock's recorded sermons are played on a large screen. Bell Shoals plans to broadcast the sermons by satellite to 10 auxiliary churches.
That's a major jump in the 46 years since 17 men met in a house and talked about their vision for a church. There were 86 charter members when the church was formed in 1961. Members had no hymnals and sat on folding chairs.
The church now has a 39-acre campus and an academy with roughly 650 students from preschool through eighth grade.
The church has not shied away from politics, either.
In 2007, the church hosted a conference that drew national leaders of the religious right to discuss gay rights issues, Islam, abortion and other issues of what they call the "culture wars."
The Family Impact Summit provoked protests from local gay rights groups that included a vigil by protesters on the final day of the event. Equality Florida, which bills itself as a human rights group dedicated to the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, spearheaded the protest.
The summit included speakers familiar to religious and social conservative movement members — Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association; Gary Bauer, past president of the Family Research Council; Tony Perkins, FRC's current president; Ken Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of state; and others.
The church provided water and restroom facilities to the protesters, who stood outside for about 90 minutes
bell shoals baptist church