HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — An aerial photo shoot off the Northern California coast turned into a rescue drama when one of two small aircraft flying together malfunctioned and the pilot ditched it into the ocean.
The single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza propeller plane went down Tuesday evening in Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco.
The pilot of the second plane quickly reported the crash to the Coast Guard and circled overhead.
Pilot David Lesh told KGO-TV the flight was aimed at making images of his newly purchased plane over the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay.
Instead, the plane lost power and Lesh had to set it down.
"It skipped along the water a few times. There was like no impact. We were totally fine," Lesh told KGO. "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."
The pilot of the other aircraft, Owen Leipelt, and his passenger watched as Lesh’s plane hit the water.
The Coast Guard received a call from the second aircraft around 6 p.m. and dispatched two aircraft, a cutter and a patrol boat.
Leipelt, meanwhile, continued flying over the pair floating in the chilly water of Half Moon Bay.
"At one point I lost them," Leipelt told KGO. "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 video as he and his friend bobbed in the sea, watched the plane sink and as the Coast Guard helicopter hoisted him aboard.
“The second pilot’s quick response to report the downed plane and remain on scene greatly aided the Coast Guard’s prompt response and ability to save two lives,” Lt. Cmdr. Joshua Murphy, the rescue pilot, said in a statement.
Navy Times editor’s note: The Coast Guard told us that the BE-36 went down about 9 miles south of Pillar Point Harbor and the call from the second plane arrived at the Coast Guard Sector San Francisco Command Center at approximately 6 p.m. on Tuesday.
Watchstanders immediately scrambled an MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter out of Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco, a C-27 Spartan medium range surveillance plane from Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento and the 87-foot patrol boat Hawksbill, a cutter homeported in Monterey.
Within 20 minutes the Dolphin’s crew was hoisting the pilot and his female passenger to safety. They declined medical treatment and were flown to Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco, where San Francisco International Airport fire personnel checked out their condition and reported no injuries.