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Officials: 4 dead after two planes collide in the air in Florida

Plane crash in Winter Haven
Posted at 11:19 PM, Mar 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-07 23:19:04-05

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Four people are dead after two planes were involved in a midair collision over Winter Haven, Florida on Tuesday afternoon.

According to the Polk County Sheriff's Office, a search and rescue mission has ended with no other victims identified apart from those who were aboard the two planes.

In a news conference, the Chief of Staff for the Polk County Sheriff's Office, Steve Lester, said dispatchers received a 911 call around 2 p.m. informing first responders that two planes had collided in the air over Lake Hartridge in Winter Haven.

Deputies later said one of the planes was a Piper J-3 Cub seaplane operated by Jack Brown's Seaplane Base in Winter Haven and the other was a Cherokee Piper 161 fixed-wing plane operated by Sunrise Aviation on behalf of Polk State College.

The body of one of the four victims was located by first responders quickly after they arrived. The other three were found after a lengthy search by boat and by helicopter.

Three of the victims have been identified:

  • Faith Irene Baker, 24, of Winter Haven, a pilot/flight instructor with Sunrise Aviation (Cherokee Piper 161)
  • Zachary Jean Mace, 19, of Winter Haven, a student at Polk State College (Cherokee Piper 161)
  • Randall Elbert Crawford, 67, from Carlisle, Pennsylvania (Piper J-3 Cub)

Officials had not yet identified the fourth victim by Tuesday night.

Multiple agencies, including Winter Haven Police, Winter Haven Fire, NTSB, FAA, and Polk County Fire Rescue, assisted in the search.

"My heart goes out to the families and friends of those who were killed in today's crash. The NTSB and FAA will be investigating the cause and circumstances of the collision. Please keep the families in your prayers during this difficult and stressful time," said Sheriff Grady Judd.

It is unknown at this time what caused the collision, but an agent with the Federal Aviation Administration arrived to the scene Tuesday evening to begin investigating. The National Transportation Safety Board are expected to arrive on Wednesday.

Neighbors like Henry Snipes said they commonly see seaplanes and other aircraft flying over the area.

“There’s a lot of Piper planes that go around out here all the time," he said.

The airport is located adjacent to the lake and some of the seaplanes use the lake to practice "touch-and-go" landings.

Snipes said he has seen other plane crashes in the area.

“I’ve seen a couple of them go down as some of them are landing and tipped over — flipped over upside-down," he said.

He said the crash on Tuesday, however, is different. Other neighbors told us they're praying for the families of those killed.

This story was originally published by Scripps New Tampa in Tampa, Florida.