A Piper J-3 Cub seaplane and a Cherokee Piper 161 fixed-wing plane collided around 2 p.m. Tuesday over Lake Hartridge near Winter Haven Regional Airport, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.
“All of a sudden it was a giant boom,” Caridad Fernandez, who lives along the lake, told WESH-TV. “It literally sounded like when a rocket takes off and hits the atmosphere.”
Fernandez said she and many of her neighbors in the community about 40 miles southwest of Orlando ran outside.
“We pretty much saw everything hit the water,” Fernandez said.
Numerous rescue workers responded to the scene, where one of the planes was submerged under about 21 feet of water, while the other was partially submerged. They pulled four bodies from the planes, the sheriff 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, Judd said. 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 in Winter Haven.
Both planes were expected to be removed later Wednesday from the lake, the sheriff said.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will investigate what caused the two planes to collide.
"Please keep the families in your prayers during this difficult and stressful time,” Judd said.