San Jose

Pilot: Plane Crash in Ocean Off Half Moon Bay Was Not a Stunt

David Lesh, who has large social media following and daredevil history, said aircraft lost power

A day after a small plane crashed in the ocean off the coast of Half Moon Bay, the pilot found himself explaining what he believed happened and why it was not a stunt.

Emergency crews Tuesday evening responded to the crash in the water about 4 miles off Half Moon Bay at about 6:15 p.m., rescuing two people from the water, the U.S Coast Guard said.

On Wednesday, pilot David Lesh of Denver said he just purchased the plane for about $200,000 and spent another $40,000 on restoring it. He dismissed any notions that the entire incident was a premeditated stunt.

The plane that crashed off Half Moon Bay on Tuesday made stops in Hayward and San Jose before its fateful trek over the Pacific. And pilot David Lesh, a pro skier, has a large social media following as well as a bit of a daredevil history.

"Consider the fact I spent a quarter-million dollars on that plane and then took two months to upgrade it," he said. "That's my baby. I had no interest in ruining my new airplane and putting it in the ocean."

Lesh said the single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza lost power over the water, and he couldn't get the motor restarted. He said he had about 20-30 seconds to deal with it before the crash landing.

"I was probably 3,400 feet, did everything I could," he said. "Couldn't get the motor running and put it into the Pacific."

Coast Guard rescues two people from downed plane in Half Moon Bay.

Lesh and his friend were the only two people on board, and they got out of the aircraft and into the water, where Coast Guard crews rescued them. The aircraft sank. 

No injuries were reported.

Lesh, who has a large social media following and a bit of a daredevil history, shot video of the scene while he treaded water with his companion. During the forced landing, he was able to skip the plane along the surface of the water before it wrecked.

Emergency crews Tuesday evening responded to a small plane crash in the water off Half Moon Bay, and both occupants of the aircraft were rescued, the U.S Coast Guard said. Ian Cull reports.

He said they were traveling about 75 mph just before touching the water.

"There was a splash, and we skipped through the water," Lesh said.

A friend of Lesh's, Owen Leipelt, was also flying nearby and was able to capture video and photos of the crash and aftermath from the air. He kept circling the crash scene and radioed air traffic control without knowing his friends were unhurt.

"Your heart sinks when you hear, 'Mayday, I have no power.' It's something you don't want to hear, and it takes a second to kick in," Leipelt said. And when Lesh called him 10 minutes later: "I have never been so relieved in my life to hear him on the phone."

The plane took off out of Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose and was flying over Half Moon Bay for a mid-air photo shoot of Lesh's plane when the aircraft lost power.

Lesh said Wednesday he believes the plane lost power because of an issue with the quality of the gas. 

A Coast Guard rescue helicopter happened to be in the area on a training run.

"We got the call, we responded immediately, headed directly out there and were able to find the orbiting aircraft and then find the people in the water," Lt. Cmdr. Joshua Murphy said.

Lesh said while he and his companion were not hurt from the crash, they were stung by jellyfish, and he was hypothermic. He was grateful for the Coast Guard's quick response, saying if they didn't arrive when they did, he may not have made it.

The FAA and NTSB will investigate the crash, but because the plane sank investigators will have to rely on air traffic information, radar and interviews with Lesh to try to determine what happened. 

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