Plane removed from Windermere lake after crash

Two boaters save father, daughter from wreckage

WINDERMERE, Fla. – The single-engine Piper that plunged nose-first into Lake Down Friday evening was pulled out of the lake Monday afternoon.

Salvage crews attached air bags to the body of the plane, floated it to the surface, and towed it to the boat ramp. Crews used a crane to drag it up onto a trailer.

The FAA and NTSB will now examine the wreckage to determine why the plane crashed.

"I'm losing engine power, I may have to ditch," the pilot told air traffic controllers at Orlando Executive Airport minutes before the crash at 6:10 p.m.

"Large lake beneath me, and uh...  oh my gosh, you'll be ok babe," said the pilot over the radio, referring to his 9-year-old stepdaughter on board.

Air traffic control recordings show the pilot considered landing in a nearby field.

"N1495 Juliet, I'm actually circling the lakes out here, as the easiest way for me to land," said the pilot. "Tower N1495 Juliet, I'm gonna try and make a landing in a field over here."

Monday afternoon, a family friend identified the pilot as John Ledford, a financial advisor in Orlando according to an internet search.

"We would to thank our community for the outpouring of prayers, love and support," said Ledford in a statement to News 6. "Our family is forever grateful to the two fishermen who rescued us from the water, and the rescue personnel and caring hospital staff who are helping us recover. This experience is a reminder to each of us that life is precious and every day is a gift."

Witnesses tell News 6 they heard the plane's engine sputtering as it circled the lake.

Austin Keaton was fishing with a friend when they watched the plane crash into the water.

"I jumped on the motor, he called 911 and we got over there in about 20 seconds," Keaton said.

They arrived to find the plane had sunk, and a man, 46, was treading water holding his injured daughter.

"When we got there he was saying, 'grab my daughter, grab my daughter.' He wasn't going to be able to swim much longer," he said. "Right as we got there, he dropped her."

The two boaters grabbed the 9-year-old girl and pulled her onto the their boat.

"I picked her up out of the water and noticed that she had head trauma. The bone was showing, blood down her face. The dad was in really bad back pain," Keaton said.

He says they took them to the boat ramp on the south side of the lake, where Orange County Fire Rescue was already waiting with paramedics.

OCFR tells News 6 the father was transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center, while the daughter was transported to Arnold Palmer Medical Center.  Both of them were trauma alerts.

Keaton brushed off any notion that he and his friend were heroes.

"We were just trying to do the right thing. It's about helping people. Making sure no one gets hurt, and that's what we were here to do -- help someone out that was in distress," he said.

But Windermere's Mayor wants to honor Austin Keaton and Joao Pacheco at a special ceremony Tuesday evening.

"I think it's important to recognize them because there might have been people who said they're not getting involved," said Mayor Gary Bruhn. "They didn't think about themselves, they immediately went to the plane not knowing if it would catch on fire or what would happen."

Mayor Bruhn said family members of the father and step-daughter will attend the ceremony tomorrow night to thank the young men in person.

"Thanks to these young men, a family still has a daughter and a father," said Mayor Bruhn. "Windermere is proud of them!”


About the Author: