Report: Student was landing when 2 small planes collided

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) — A student pilot was trying to land a small plane at a central Florida airport when it collided with another small plane, sending both aircraft crashing into a lake and killing four people, a preliminary report released Tuesday said.

A Piper J-3 Cub seaplane and a Piper PA-28 Cherokee fixed-wing plane were both conducting instructional flights when they collided March 7 over Lake Hartridge near Winter Haven Regional Airport, a National Transportation Safety Board report said. Winter Haven is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southwest of Orlando.

According to recorded radio transmissions, the student pilot in the PA-28 was performing landing maneuvers to a runway at the nearby airport. Four seconds after the PA-28 pilot's final transmission, the plane collided nearly straight on with the J-3 at about 575 feet (175 meters) above sea level, officials said.

The J-3 had been returning to its base for a water landing on a nearby lake after a local flight, the report said. The seaplane was not equipped with a radio and was not self-announcing or able to receive transmissions on a common traffic advisory frequency, investigators said.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office previously said Faith Irene Bake, 24, a pilot/flight instructor with Sunrise Aviation, and Zachary Jean Mace, 19, a student at Polk State College, were aboard the fixed-wing plane, which was operated by Sunrise Aviation in Ormond Beach on behalf of Polk State College. Both were from Winter Haven.

Randall Elbert Crawford, 67, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Louis C. Defazio, 78, of Fredericksburg, Texas, were aboard the seaplane, which was operated by Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base, the sheriff's office said. The NTSB report didn't say who was flying that plane.

Rescue workers recovered all four bodies from the water shortly after the crash. All major portions of both planes, except for the right wing and aileron of the PA-28, were recovered from the lake and held for further examination, officials said.

The NTSB's preliminary report doesn't list a cause for the crash or assign blame. The investigation will continue.