Small plane crashes off Half Moon Bay coast, 2 rescued without injury

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A small plane pilot and his passenger battled aggressive sea life and freezing ocean water after the aircraft malfunctioned and took a nose dive into the Pacific Ocean not far from Half Moon Bay.

Pilot David Lesh was flying his small Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft, similar to a Cesna, with a woman passenger Tuesday evening shortly before 6 p.m. Another friend was flying next to them shooting photos when Lesh’s plane lost power and crashed into the water five miles west of the harbor in Half Moon Bay. 

Lesh and his passenger climbed from the downed plane and grabbed flotation devices and a cell phone as the plane began to sink. 

"We just stood on the wing as long as we could. The airplane started sinking,’’ said Lesh. “There were jellyfish everywhere. There was sunfish. There was whales breaching around us. We just waited as long as we could on the wing. The plane went down, we got into the water. Jellyfish were stinging us the entire time we were in there."

The pilot in the second plane, Owen Leipelt of San Jose, radioed air traffic control, who called the U.S. Coast Guard. 

Lesh and his friend floated in the water for about 25 minutes while Leipelt circled his plane overhead.
At one point, said Leipelt said he lost sight of the two in the water.

"I had been circling him the whole time, from the time it impacted water. For about 10 minutes I couldn't see him," said Leipelt. 

A Coast Guard helicopter arrived, located Lesh and his friend in the water, and hoisted them up to safety. The cold, but calm duo refused medical treatment, but were airlifted to Air Station San Francisco and were then examined by San Francisco International Airport fire department crews.

"Luckily everything worked out well tonight, and we were able to get to them within 25 minutes before any actual damage happened to them," said U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer Mikol Sullivan. 

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the cause of the crash.