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Last updated November 24.

Jan. 19, 2004 issue

MB humanitarian worker killed in Jan. 13 plane crash

By Megan E. Roberts MBMSI News Service

Richard H. Penner, a humanitarian worker serving in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan with MBMS International, died Jan. 13 in a plane crash near Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. He was 56.

Richard H. Penner, killed in a Jan. 13 plane crash in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Richard H. Penner, killed in a Jan. 13 plane crash in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Penner died along with 31 other passengers and five flight crew members when a Yak-40 commercial plane went down in thick fog near Tashkent’s airport around 7:30 p.m. local time. The plane was making its second approach to the airport when it went down, killing all onboard. The airport closed because of the fog shortly after the crash.

The plane was flying from the Uzbek border town of Termez, a hub for humanitarian aid going into northern Afghanistan, about 310 miles south of Tashkent.

Penner was a member of North Kildonan MB Church in Winnipeg, Man.

“For over two decades, Richard was committed to serving the people of Central Asia, even through a period of much conflict in the region,” said Harold Ens, general director of MBMS International, the Mennonite Brethren mission agency.

“His sudden death is a great loss, not only to his family, but also to the people he served so well,” Ens said. “My hope is that his example will challenge others to give their lives in service as Richard did.”

He and his wife, Ann, along with their three young children, moved to Afghanistan in 1978 to serve with International Assistance Mission. What began as a two-year term on behalf of MBMS International turned into more than 25 years of service.

While in Afghanistan, the Penners worked with medical projects, including setting up a prosthetic clinic and an eye hospital.

After serving in various administrative capacities within IAM, the Penners moved to Uzbekistan in 1993 to serve with World Concern, an international Christian humanitarian agency. Last year they moved back to Afghanistan, where Penner was serving as the country manager and overseeing a food-production project at the time of his death.

“Richard was an expert on the culture and politics of Afghanistan and the entire Central Asia region,” according to a statement from World Concern. “He was well known both to government officials and to non-governmental workers throughout the region, and was appreciated for his wide experience, wise insights and sense of humor.”

In a letter written a few years ago, Penner said: “Living and working in parts of the former Soviet Union is a challenge that is hard to explain. I have gained a new appreciation of what it means to live on the edge.”

He is survived by his wife, Ann; and their children, Betty-Anne and Matthew Siebert, Rebecca and Dennis Warkentin and Daniel and Lorilee Penner, all of Winnipeg.

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