Four people died on the afternoon of March 7 when two small planes collided over central Florida. The accident took place at approximately 2:00 p.m. over Lake Hartridge near Winter Haven. The collison is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, and it could be 18 months before an accident report is released. The victims were a 78-year-old man, a 67-year-old man, a 19-year-old man and a 24-year-old woman.
Rescue workers dispatched
Rescue workers from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Underwater Search and Recovery Team were dispatched to Lake Hartridge at 2:04 p.m. when a local resident called 911 to report the aviation accident. They knew where to search because the wing of one of the aircraft involved could be seen from the lakeside. The other plane was found under 21 feet of water. Investigators do not believe either of the aircraft were equipped with avoidance or radar systems.
The 19-year-old man who died in the crash was a student pilot, and radio transmissions from the Piper PA-28 Cherokee he was flying suggest that he was performing a “short approach” to a nearby airport when the two planes collided. This is a maneuver that student pilots are taught to prepare them to land in emergency situations, and all power to the engine has to be cut to complete it. When student pilots practice the maneuver, their planes lose altitude quickly and descend at a steep angle.
No radar and no time to react
The airspace over the United States is strictly controlled, but accidents like this one still happen dozens of times each year. The two pilots involved likely never realized they were in danger until it was too late to prevent a tragedy, and their aircraft lacked technology that could have warned them in time.