Authorities launched a search and rescue operation after two small airplanes collided in mid-air and landed in a lake in Central Florida. However, rescuers ultimately discovered that all occupants met a tragic ending.
Search and rescue launched after two small planes collide in Florida
Around 2:04 PM local time, the Polk County Sheriff’s office received a call about an in-air collision that involved two small planes over Lake Hartridge, near the city of Winter Haven.
Witnesses told authorities they saw the planes plummeting into the water.
Lake Hartridge is located slightly south of the U.S. 92 and U.S 17 junction and a little east of the Winter Haven Regional Airport. The lake spans some 437 acres and is largely surrounded by a mixture of residences and businesses on all sides.
Authorities identified several eyewitnesses, with one man saying he heard the crash even though he was indoors and assumed it was a motor vehicle accident. Another person fishing on the lake also heard the crash but said upon turning toward the sound, there was nothing to see. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were expected to send units to conduct their own investigation as well.
When authorities initially responded, they had no information on where the planes had departed from or what had caused the collision, BBC reported.
First responders arrived to see the wing tip of one plane protruding from the water, while the second aircraft was not visible, People reported.
Dive team makes grim discovery
Around 4:35 PM, a dive team arrived at the lake, according to Polk County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Staff Steve Lester, who spoke to The Ledger.
After searching for hours, late that evening, divers found the second plane some 21 feet below the surface.
“It is no longer a search and rescue operation, but a recovery operation,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a night news release.
Divers eventually found four bodies, which authorities say were the only occupants of the two planes.
At press time, authorities had only identified three of the four people who perished in the accident:
Faith Irene Baker, 24, of Winter Haven, a pilot and flight instructor with Sunrise Aviation, was in a Cherokee Piper 161.
Zachary Jean Mace, 19, of Winter Haven, a student at Polk State College, was also in the Cherokee Piper 161.
Randall Elbert Crawford, 67, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was aboard a Piper J-3 Cub.
Investigators were still attempting to identify the fourth person, who had been aboard the Piper J-3 Cub, in order to notify next of kin before releasing the name.