4 people killed in Winter Haven plane crash identified: deputies

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Four people died after two after two small planes collided near Winter Haven Regional Airport Tuesday afternoon.

Immediately after two small planes collided around 2 p.M. Near Winter Haven Regional Airport in the eastern part of Lake Hartridge, rescue and search crews from the Winter Haven Police Department responded.

“It was a mid-air collision and both aircraft immediately went into the ocean,” stated Polk County Chief Steve Lester.

Operated by Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base in Winter Haven, one of the aircraft was a Piper J-3 Cub seaplane. On behalf of Polk State College, the second aircraft was a Cherokee Piper 161 fixed-wing plane operated by Sunrise Aviation (Ormond Beach).

The accident has revealed the identities of the four individuals who lost their lives at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Among them are Pilot Faith Irene Baker, 24 years old, from Winter Haven, Zachary Jean Mace, a 19-year-old student at Polk State College, and Randall Elbert Crawford, a 67-year-old resident of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Louis C. DeFazio, 78 years old, hails from Fredricksburg, Texas (and Winter Haven, Florida).

“Yesterday’s incident, Lou DeFazio, teacher and close companion, and Randall Crawford, fellow seaplane enthusiast and longstanding patron of the Base, grieve the tragedy with great sorrow,” shared Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base on its Facebook page. “Collectively, we navigate through this difficult period as the families, friends, and entire Polk State community receive our thoughts and sincerest condolences.”

The seaplane facility mentioned that they are collaborating with local authorities, the FAA, and the NTSB as the investigation progresses.

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Our prayer and hope are affected by this tragedy, as we feel the difficult peace of God’s love for each other through it.

Deputies mentioned that the NTSB is collaborating with a contractor to retrieve both aircrafts that are still in the lake, and it is anticipated that they will be recovered on Wednesday.

Sheriff Grady Judd expressed, “Amidst this arduous and demanding period, kindly remember to include the families in your prayers. The NTSB and FAA will examine the reason and conditions of the accident. I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families and acquaintances of the individuals who lost their lives in the crash today.”

Lester mentioned that one of the two aircrafts submerged 21 feet beneath the surface.

The Winter Haven Police Department is currently requesting that individuals who engage in boating activities in the Chain of Lakes refrain from entering the vicinity of Lake Hartridge until additional notice is provided.

Due to heightened law enforcement presence at Lake Hartridge Nature Park, which includes the Lake Hartridge boat ramp, it is advised to avoid visiting the area, and authorities are also requesting the public’s cooperation.

In a statement on Tuesday, Polk State College stated the following:

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

President Angela Garcia Falconetti

Polk State College will provide support to staff and students through the Program Assistance Employee and the Program Assistance Student BayCare, both online and on campus.

Your Side has reached out to the board for comment on the investigation charge.

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This is a developing story. Stay up to date with the latest news from 8 Channel News WFLA on the go, both on the mobile app and on-air.

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