WATCH: Pilots describe ‘surreal’ moment plane crashes into water near Half Moon Bay

Bay Area

HALF MOON BAY (KRON) — Two people were rescued Tuesday night after a small plane crashed into the ocean near Half Moon Bay.

The pilot of the crashed plane, David Lesh, told KRON4 his plane lost power before it went down into the water.

He said he had 30 seconds to deal with the power issue as he prepared for a water landing.

“We skipped along the water for a few hundred feet and the impact was very minimal, it was not hard at all and we immediately opened the door and got out onto the wing,” Lesh said.

The crash occurred just before 6 p.m. Tuesday about five miles outside of Half Moon Bay Harbor, according to authorities.

He said he only had about 20 or 30 seconds until the airplane would sink under the water.

“We took a quick inventory of what was in the plane,” Lesh said. “I grabbed my cell phone and the keys to the car.”

Once in the water, the cold temperature took a toll quickly.

“It got cold pretty quickly,” Lesh said. “After about twenty minutes or so, I started to freeze up pretty good.”

The Coast Guard says two planes were flying together when one went down with a man and woman inside.

Lesh was inside the crashed plane while his friend and fellow pilot, Owen Leipelt, was inside the second plane.

Leipelt filmed video of the crash aftermath while flying above and helped with the rescue efforts.

“It’s absolutely surreal hearing your friend call for mayday and ask for help. It’s something you never want to hear,” Leipelt said. “I watched them go down, so I’m still trying to process.”

For about 15 minutes, Leipelt said he didn’t know what Lesh’s condition was.

“When he called me, it was a relief,” Leipelt said.

As far as Lesh’s takeaway from surviving the crash, he said in retrospect he would’ve done a few things differently.

“I would’ve been a little closer to land, but I think it’s just important to have the right safety equipment. It would’ve been nice to have a life raft or something out there,” he said.

He said most importantly, pilots should remain calm and remember their training in situations like this one.

Coast Guardsman Michael Sullivan helped rescue Lesh after the plane went down.

He described to KRON4 what happened during the rescue.

“I just swam up to him, asked if they were okay and asked if there was anybody else in the water and if they had flotation,” he said.

Sullivan was dropped by a helicopter during the rescue, he said.

He said Leipelt’s guidance in telling first responders where the plane crash was really helpful.

“That was huge,” Sullivan said. “Because by the time [we] got to David, he was probably, pretty decently, hypothermic, moving into severely hypothermic.”

Sullivan also emphasized the importance of having the right gear during a landing like that.

“They’re just lucky there were no injuries and it worked out perfect,” Sullivan said.

Aviation and federal investigators are now looking into what caused the crash.


Crash Video Courtesy: Owen Leipelt

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