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Sheriff's office identifies 4 people killed in midair plane collision, crash into Winter Haven lake

One of the planes in the crash was 21 feet underwater in Lake Hartridge.

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Four people died after two small planes crashed into each other in mid-air Tuesday afternoon over Lake Hartridge.

It happened around 2 p.m., the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement to 10 Tampa Bay.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office confirmed that four people died in the collision. Authorities released the names of the four people killed:

  • Faith Baker, 24, of Winter Haven and a pilot and flight instructor with Sunrise Aviation
  • Zachary Mace, 19, of Winter Haven and a student at Polk State College
  • Randall Crawford, 67, from Pennsylvania
  • Louis Defazio, 78, of Fredricksburg, Texas, and Winter Haven

In an update Wednesday afternoon, NTSB air safety investigator Lynn Spencer said of the four people killed, three have been recovered. 

The two planes involved include a Piper J-3 Club seaplane from Jack Brown's Seaplane Base and a Cherokee Piper 161 fixed-wing plane operated by Sunrise Aviation through Polk State College. Law enforcement says Baker and Mace were in the Cherokee Piper 161, and Crawford and Defazio were in the Piper J-3 Club.

After a preliminary investigation, Spencer said Baker and Mace were doing pattern work in the Cherokee Piper, including practicing "touch-and-go" maneuvers, when the crash happened.

As of Wednesday afternoon, NTSB said the Cherokee Piper was sitting on the bottom of the lake while the J-3 Cub was floating on the surface. Special dive teams will work to recover the aircraft over the next couple of days.

Spencer explained that the NTSB will be looking at "the man, the machine and the environment" to investigate this crash.

"We will be looking at the pilots, their airplanes and the environment," she said. “Because this was a mid-air collision, it will be very important for us to look at the impact signatures in order to determine the angle of impact of these two airplanes.”

According to Spencer, a preliminary report will be published in two to three weeks while a full report with the probable cause of the crash will be published in 12 to 18 months.

"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. "Please keep the families in your prayers during this difficult and stressful time."

Polk State College released a statement Tuesday evening regarding the passing of Baker and Mace:

"Our Polk State College family is devastated by this tragedy," Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti said in a statement. "We extend our deepest condolences to their families, friends, and colleagues."

The school says it will be offering support programs to its students on campus, by phone and virtually.

A witness to the crash reportedly tried to save a person who died. 

Local authorities are asking people who boat the Chain of Lakes to avoid the area of Lake Hartridge as recovery efforts remain ongoing and more law enforcement attend the scene.

Federal officials, including the FAA and the NTSB, are spearheading the investigation.

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