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Mid-air collision of small planes over Florida lake leaves four dead, sheriff says

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Mid-air collision of small planes over Florida lake leaves four dead, sheriff says

Winter Haven, Fla. — Two small planes collided in midair over a central Florida lake Tuesday afternoon, killing the four people in them, authorities said.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Tuesday night that their bodies had been located. “It is no longer a search and rescue operation, but a recovery operation,” he said.

He said one of the planes involved was a Cherokee Piper 161 carrying Faith Irene Baker, 24, of Winter Haven, a pilot/flight instructor with Sunrise Aviation and Zachary Jean Mace, 19, of Winter Haven, a student at Polk State College. CBS Orlando affiliate WKMG-TV cited deputies as saying it was being operated on behalf of the college and was a fixed-wing aircraft.

Judd said the other plane was a Piper J-3 Cub with Randall Elbert Crawford, 67, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania and one other person on board. The J-3 is a float plane. Again citing deputies, WKMG said it was operated by Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base in Winter Haven.

“Deputies are working to confirm the identity of a fourth deceased person. … Once a positive identification has been made, and next of kin notification has been made, we will release the identity,” he said.

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Debris is seen in Lake Hartridge in Winter Haven, Fla. after two small planes collided over it in mid-air on March 7, 2023. The planes crashed into the lake. All four people on them lost their lives, authorities said. CBS Miami

“My heart goes out to the families and friends of those who were killed in today’s crash,” Judd added. “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 released a statement on the deaths of Baker and Mace, CBS Tampa affiliate WTSP-TV reports.

“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.”

The school said it will be offering support programs to its students on campus, by phone and virtually.

Deputies said earlier it wasn’t known where the planes had taken off from or what caused the crash. Lake Hartridge, in Winter Haven, where the planes went down, is immediately southeast of the Winter Haven Regional Airport. Winter Haven is about 40 miles southwest of Orlando.

Witnesses recalled the planes crashing into each other and then immediately falling into the water, Polk County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Staff Steve Lester said.

The wing of one plane was sticking out of the water, while the other aircraft had settled about 21 feet below the surface, officials said.

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