Glenn and Elaine Mull - photo courtesy of USA Today Darcy Gray The Hutchinson News

While Pawnee County residents grieve the loss of four family members killed when their twin-engine plane crashed Monday in Tennessee, witnesses and officials at the scene are describing the pilot - Glenn Mull of Pawnee Rock - as being a hero for narrowly avoiding a collision with a YMCA building packed with people.

Mull, 62, and his wife, Elaine, 63, owners of Mull Farms and Feeding in Pawnee Rock, were traveling with their daughter Amy Harter, 40, and granddaughter Samantha Harter, 16, to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association Trade Show at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., when their Gulfstream 690C crashed in a yard near the Bellevue YMCA building. The owner of the plane was listed as Mid-Kansas Agri Company, of which Mull was an executive, Nashville police reported.

The Mulls' plane took off at 2:45 p.m. Monday from Great Bend Municipal Airport and later missed its first approach at the John Tune Airport in Nashville, according to police there. The aircraft was preparing for a second approach when the crash occurred at 4:57 p.m. Monday, striking trees near the YMCA before crashing. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. Foul play was not suspected, police reported.

Officials in Tennessee who spoke to NBC News praised Glenn Mull for missing not only the YMCA building but a retirement home as well. As many as 300 people were estimated to have been in the YMCA around the time of the crash.

"While details of the crash are still emerging, the near-miss of our building surely saved dozens of people from harm," the YMCA of Middle Tennessee said in a statement, adding that its thoughts and prayers "continue to be with the victims' families and all those affected by the crash."

A statement released Tuesday by Mull family spokeswoman Lori Gibson called the deaths a "horrific loss," as the four "were a part of the very thread that weaved the heartbeat of this family."

"The tremendous void left in the ashes of the crash will be a stinging reminder in the days to come of the ones taken too soon," the family said in their statement. "Each of the four independently represented love, humility and generosity that we will carry with us in the healing process."

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., along with several Pawnee County residents, said the Mull family was well-known for their generous spirit and commitment to improving the county and its tight-knit community.

"Glenn, Elaine, their daughter Amy and granddaughter Samantha will be greatly missed," Moran said.

"I ask all Kansans to join me in keeping their family and friends in our thoughts and prayers during the days ahead."

Kathy Bowman, a longtime Pawnee County commissioner, said the Mulls were 4-H leaders who were "very involved in the community." Glenn was active in the Pawnee County Community Hospital Foundation, and his children were also involved in 4-H, she said. She said it was very sad for the community to lose the Mulls.

Larned Mayor Bob Pivonka agreed that Glenn Mull "did a tremendous amount of good for a lot of organizations."

"He was very active in the community and just about everything that came up," Pivonka told The News. "He was always willing to give someone a flight and would volunteer if you needed to go somewhere.

"We were in the middle of negotiations on the hospital some years back, and he took about five or six of us to Topeka to see people there. He did this on several occasions for different organizations.

"He managed and owned the feedlot, and he and his wife were both active in local organizations and groups. It just seemed like he was always involved in something, so if you ever needed help, he was there to do that."

Aubrey Abbott Patterson, president of the Hutchinson Community Foundation, went to school with the Mulls' children in Larned. She, too, recalled how the family was civic-minded.

"What I know about the Mull family is they're really good people who cared about the community and served the community in a lot of different ways," she said.

In their statement, the Mull family said they expected none of their "family of employees" to lose employment because of the tragic deaths.

"Immediate efforts are being finalized to cover the day-to-day responsibilities that Glenn, Elaine and Amy shouldered," the family said in their statement. "The confidence and respect they imparted to our invaluable staff will undoubtedly continue in their absence. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers during this time."