Four dead after two small planes collide midair and land in Florida lake

Four people on board two small airplanes died Tuesday in central Florida after the planes collided midair and landed in a lake, authorities said.

The collision was reported at 2:04 p.m. over Lake Hartridge in Winter Haven. First responders rushed to the scene and found one plane 21 feet below the surface and another partly submerged, Steve Lester, the chief of staff with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said at a news conference.

“It was an in-air collision, and both planes immediately went into the water,” he said.

First responders went into search-and-rescue mode and recovered the bodies of the four people who had been in the planes, the sheriff’s office said.

The sheriff’s office identified three of them as Faith Irene Baker, 24, of Winter Haven; Zachary Jean Mace, 19, of Winter Haven; and Randall Elbert Crawford, 67, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Emergency personnel work near the site of a midair collision of two planes in central Florida on Tuesday.WFLA

The planes were a Cherokee Piper 161, operated by Sunrise Aviation on behalf of Polk State College, and a Piper J-3 Cub operated by Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base in Winter Haven, the sheriff’s office said.

Baker, a pilot and flight instructor with Sunrise Aviation, and Mace, a student at Polk State College, were on the Cherokee Piper, the sheriff’s office said.

Deputies were working to confirm the identity of the fourth person, who had been on board the J-3 Cub with Crawford.

“My heart goes out to the families and friends of those who were killed in today’s crash,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a statement.

Polk State College, which has campuses in Winter Haven and elsewhere in Polk County, said it was mourning the deaths of Mace and Baker.

“Our Polk State College family is devastated by this tragedy,” President Angela Garcia Falconetti said in a statement from the school.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the planes collided. Lester noted that the nearest airport, Winter Haven Regional Airport, is just off the lake’s shore.

The cause of the crash will be investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, the sheriff’s office said.

Winter Haven is about 50 miles south of Orlando.

Lindsey Pipia and Juliette Arcodia contributed.

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