Pilot Films Rescue After Small Plane Crashes Off Calif. Coast - NECN
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Pilot Films Rescue After Small Plane Crashes Off Calif. Coast

Pilot offers details on what caused him to put the aircarft into the ocean, and he says it wasn't a stunt

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    NEWSLETTERS

    New Details From Pilot One Day After Half Moon Bay Crash

    One day after crash landing his newly purchased plane in the ocean off Half Moon Bay and recording his own rescue, the pilot offered new details and answered critics who say this was all a stunt. Marianne Favro reports. (Published Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019)

    Emergency crews Tuesday evening responded to a small plane crash in the water off Half Moon Bay, and both occupants of the aircraft were rescued, the U.S Coast Guard said.

    On Wednesday, pilot David Lesh of Denver offered new details about the crash landing and answered critics who believe the entire incident was a stunt.

    The single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza crashed in the ocean at around 6:15 p.m., according to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor.

    Lesh and his friend were the only two people on board, and they got out of the aircraft and into the water, where Coast Guard crews rescued them. The aircraft sank, Gregor said. 

    No injuries were reported.

    Lesh, who has a large social media following and a bit of a daredevil history, shot video of the scene while he treaded water with his companion. During the forced landing, he was able to skip the plane along the surface of the water before it wrecked.

    Lesh said he lost power and couldn't get the engine restarted. He said they were traveling about 75 mph just before touching the water.

    "There was a splash, and we skipped through the water," Lesh said.

    A friend of the pilot, Owen Leipelt, was also flying and was able to capture video and photos of the crash and aftermath from the air. He kept circling the crash scene and radioed air traffic control without knowing his friends were unhurt.

    "Your heart sinks when you hear, 'Mayday, I have no power.' It's something you don't want to hear, and it takes a second to kick in," Leipelt said. And when Lesh called him 10 minutes later: "I have never been so relieved in my life to hear him on the phone."

    The plane took off out of Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose and was flying over Half Moon Bay for a mid-air photo shoot of Lesh's plane when the aircraft lost power.

    Lesh said Wednesday he believes the plane lost power because of an issue with the quality of the gas. And when asked about those screaming hoax, Lesh admitted he's done some provocative things before, but said it was not a stunt.

    "Consider the fact I spent a quarter-million dollars on that plane and then took two months to upgrade it," he said. "That's my baby. I had no interest in ruining my new airplane and putting it in the ocean."

    The Coast Guard's rescue helicopter happened to be in the area on a training run.

    "We got the call, we responded immediately, headed directly out there and were able to find the orbiting aircraft and then find the people in the water," Lt. Cmdr. Joshua Murphy said.

    Lesh didn't know what went wrong with the plane and said he had about 20-30 seconds to deal with it before the crash landing.

    "I was probably 3,400 feet, did everything I could," he said. "Couldn't get the motor running and put it into the Pacific."

    Lesh said he and his companion were not hurt from the crash but were stung by jellyfish, and he was hypothermic. He was garteful for the Coast Guard's quick response, saying if they didn't arrive when they did, he may not have made it.

    The FAA and NTSB will investigate the crash, but because the plane sank investigators will have to rely on air traffic information, radar and interviews with Lesh to try to determine what happened.