NTSB officials release new details on what led to Winter Haven plane crash that killed 4

Both planes involved in mid-air collision recovered, transportation officials say

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – A National Transportation Safety Board investigator said Thursday that officials recovered both of the planes involved in the mid-air Winter Haven crash that killed four people, including a 19-year-old student pilot.

Lynn Spencer, an air safety investigator for the eastern region of the NTSB, said officials recovered the Piper J-3 Cub and everything except the right wing of the Cherokee Piper 161, the two aircrafts that collided and crashed into Lake Hartridge near the Winter Haven Regional Airport & FBO on Tuesday.

The Cherokee was carrying Faith Irene Baker, a 24-year-old pilot/flight instructor with Sunrise Aviation, and Zachary Jean Mace, a 19-year-old student at Polk State College, both of Winter Haven, while the Cub was carrying 67-year-old Randall Elbert Crawford, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and 78-year-old Louis C. Defazio, of Fredricksburg, Texas.

All passengers aboard the planes died and have been recovered, deputies and transportation officials said.

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“I want to again express condolences on behalf of all of us at the National Transportation Safety Board to those affected by this tragedy,” Spencer said. “Our goal at the NTSB is to find the probable cause and to improve aviation safety... We will try to prevent this accident from happening again in this area.”

Video shared with NTSB officials shows the right wing of the Cherokee came off during the impact sequence and the Cub attempted to dive to the right to avoid the collision.

The Cherokee aircraft had completed one full-stop landing and two go-around maneuvers, which is what occurs when you come in for a landing, but instead add power, climb again and go around before attempting the landing again.

“The maneuver that the Cherokee was performing is a normal emergency maneuver taught to all pilots,” Spencer said.

The aircraft did this while performing a short approach, during which pilots pull off the power and descend at a steep angle close to the runway, according to Spencer.

Radio transmissions show that the Cherokee aircraft was announcing its location and intentions while performing these maneuvers seconds before the impact occurred, but it is not known whether the other aircraft could hear this.

“At these altitudes, it is not required that a pilot communicate or even have a radio in this airspace,” Spencer said. “Our preliminary information at this point is that neither airplane had any kind of avoidance system or radar that would have alerted them to the other aircraft.”

Polk State College released a statement following the collision.

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

Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti

NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration are currently investigating the crash.

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About the Author:

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.