Authorities are investigating the mid-air collision in central Florida Tuesday that took the lives of four people. According to the Polk County Sheriff’s office, the accident happened over Lake Hartridge in Winter Haven, Florida, around 2 p.m.
There were several eyewitnesses to the collision between the Cherokee Piper 161 operated by Sunrise Aviation on behalf of Polk State College, and the Piper J-3 Cub on floats operated by Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base.
The aircraft went down in 21 feet of water. A boat and dive team were used to access the wreckage.
The sheriff’s office confirmed the bodies of all four people on board the aircraft have been located. Louis Defazio, age 78, of Winter Haven and 67-year-old Randall Elbert Crawford, from Carlisle, Pennsylvania were aboard the J-3 Cub.
According to the FAA’s pilot database, Defazio held an Airline Transport Pilot certificate with multiple ratings, including airplane single engine sea. Crawford held a commercial certificate but did not have a seaplane rating.
The victims aboard the Cherokee have been identified as Faith Irene Baker, 24, of Winter Haven, a pilot/flight instructor with Sunrise Aviation, and Zachary Jean Mace, 19, of Winter Haven, who was a flight student at Polk State College.
“Our Polk State College family is devastated by this tragedy,” Polk State president Angela Garcia Falconetti said in a statement released to the media. “We extend our deepest condolences to their families, friends, and colleagues.”
According to a statement, Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base said it is working with the FAA, the National Transportation Safety Board and local authorities “as the investigation continues.”
“It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the loss of instructor and dear friend, Lou DeFazio, and fellow seaplane enthusiast and long time customer of the Base, Randall Crawford, in yesterday’s accident,” the seaplane base said. “Our prayers and deepest sympathies are with the families, friends, and entire Polk State community as we walk through this dark time together.”
Polk State is offering support on its campuses, by phone, and virtually through the BayCare Student Assistance Program and the Employee Assistance Program.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA are investigating the accident.
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