Pilot shares story of survival after plane crashes into ocean near Half Moon Bay

Amanda del Castillo Image
Wednesday, August 21, 2019
Pilot, passenger share story of survival after plane crashes into ocean near Half Moon Bay
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An air-to-air photo shoot over the California coast turned catastrophic for 34-year-old David Lesh and his friend Kayla.

SAN FRANCISCO INTL. AIRPORT (KGO) -- A plane went down in the water near Half Moon Bay Tuesday afternoon, triggering a response from San Mateo County agencies and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The two people on-board suffered a few jellyfish stings and shared their story of survival.

An air-to-air photoshoot over the California coast turned catastrophic for David Lesh, 34, and his friend Kayla.

Lesh is in town from Denver and organized a photoshoot to get shots of his new plane.

"We were going to go fly over the Golden Gate Bridge, and do a whole Bay tour," Lesh told ABC7 News. "Obviously didn't make it there."

Lesh said he purchased his Beechcraft Bonanza just a few weeks ago. Video was shared, showing the aircraft hitting water five miles outside Half Moon Bay Harbor.

Lesh said the plane lost all power, and he couldn't get the engine back up and running.

"It skipped along the water a few times. There was like no impact. We were totally fine," Lesh described. "Got the door open right away, we piled out. I grabbed my phone, grabbed some stuff to float with and we stood on the wing as long as the plane was floating which was probably 30 seconds or 40 seconds."

"I would guess that we probably didn't have much more than maybe a minute or two from the time I figured something was wrong to the time we hit the water," he added.

Flying overhead was Owen Leipelt, piloting the lead plane. Leipelt's passenger was taking photos of Lesh's Beechcraft in the sky.

Leipelt and his passenger watched as Lesh's Beechcraft hit the water.

"At one point I lost them," Leipelt said. "I had been circling and I couldn't see them anymore, and David called me on the phone as he was bobbing in the water. He turned me around and he guided me right to where he was."

Lesh recorded the moment he and Kayla climbed on the wing. After the plane sank, he kept recording, taking video of the two bobbing in the ocean.

A short time later, the U.S. Coast Guard made contact.

"What was truly amazing about tonight was there was another aircraft on-scene that quickly responded," Lt. Commander Joshua Murphy said. "Contacted Air Traffic Control who knew to contact Airborne Coast Guard Asset and get us on-scene quickly."

Lesh continued recorded as the crew rescued him and Kayla, returning them safely to land. Both were transported to the U.S. Coast Guard Station at San Francisco International Airport.

"For as terrible as it was, as it could've been, it really wasn't bad," PO1 Mikol Sullivan told ABC7 News. "It was really a miracle."