4 dead when 2 planes collide, crash into Lake Hartridge in Winter Haven

Crash occurred near the Winter Haven Regional Airport & FBO

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – Four people, including a 19-year-old student pilot, died when two small planes collided mid-air Tuesday and crashed into Lake Hartridge in Winter Haven, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

The crash happened around 2 p.m. near the Winter Haven Regional Airport & FBO.

Deputies described the aircrafts as a Piper J-3 Cub sea plane operated by Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base in Winter Haven and a Cherokee Piper 161 fixed-wing plane operated by Sunrise Aviation in Ormond Beach on behalf of Polk State College.

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One of the planes was completely submerged about 21 feet underwater while the other was partially submerged, officials said.

Sheriff’s officials identified the four victims as 24-year-old Faith Irene Baker, of Winter Haven, a pilot/flight instructor with Sunrise Aviation (Cherokee Piper 161); 19-year-old Zachary Jean Mace, of Winter Haven, a student at Polk State College (Cherokee Piper 161); 67-year-old Randall Elbert Crawford, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, (Piper J-3 Cub); and 78-year-old Louis C. Defazio, of Fredricksburg, Texas, (Piper J-3 Cub).

The four victims were the only occupants of the planes, officials said.

“My heart goes out to the families and friends of those who were killed in today’s crash,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. “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.”

Polk State College issued a statement, saying the school is mourning the loss of a student pilot and flight instructor.

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

Polk State said it is offering support on its campuses, by phone and virtually through the BayCare Student Assistance Program and the Employee Assistance Program.

The sheriff’s office is currently leading the investigation, with multiple other agencies on hand to assist in rescue efforts.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will conduct its own investigations.

Winter Haven police issued the following statement:

This is a developing story. Check back with News 6 for updates.

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About the Authors:

Samantha started at WKMG-TV in September 2020. Before joining the News 6 team, Samantha was a political reporter for The Villages Daily Sun and has had freelance work featured in the Evansville Courier-Press and The Community Paper. When not writing, she enjoys travelling and performing improv comedy.

Anthony, a graduate of the University of Florida, joined ClickOrlando.com in April 2022.