Pilot Crashes Plane Into Ocean, Films Himself Stranded At Sea As Aircraft Sinks

A pilot and his passenger miraculously lived after their small, single-engine plane crashed into the ocean.

A pilot who said Wednesday he was forced to ditch his newly purchased aircraft in the ocean off California during a photoshoot believes bad gasoline caused the plane to malfunction.

Pilot David Lesh said he had siphoned particulate matter out of the gas but doesn’t think he got all of it.

The Coast Guard is crediting another pilot, who was flying with the victims, for helping guide rescuers to them quickly and saving their lives. Image: David Lesh

“This definitely was more stuff than I was used to seeing,” he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating. FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said investigators had not yet spoken to Lesh.

The 34-year-old pilot said he had taken his single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza propeller plane out Tuesday for an aerial photo shoot over Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, when it lost power.

“I just did everything I could to get the motor going again,” he said. “Nothing was working.”

Lesh said the plane “skipped along the water” for a few hundred feet without much of an impact before he and his passenger, a friend, grabbed anything they could use to float.

The pair were rescued without any injuries, although they did suffer jellyfish stings.  Image: David Lesh

A man in another plane piloted by Owen Leipelt had been taking photos of his friend’s aircraft when it went down.

“David radios to me that he’s lost engine power,” Leipelt said. “When you hear that, you think ‘whoa, whoa, whoa, what did I just hear, say that again.'”

Leipelt, 20, of San Jose called air traffic control for help and circled over the two people in the water.

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Meanwhile, Lesh filmed himself and his friend with his water-resistant cellphone as their plane quickly sank.

“We got lucky with the conditions,” he said. “The seas were very calm, it was daytime.”

The Coast Guard dispatched two aircraft, a cutter and a patrol boat. A helicopter hoisted the two out of the chilly water that was teeming with jellyfish.

Lesh, the founder of Denver-based outerwear company Virtika, said he bought the plane nearly three months ago for more than $200,000 and spent about $40,000 for upgrades. He said Tuesday’s flight was its first real trip.

Addressing online speculation that he had staged the water landing, Lesh said anyone who believed he would spend so much money on a plane only to sink it must have “lost their mind.”

Lesh is described on Virtika’s website as a thrill-seeker and skier who lived in Chicago, India and Wisconsin before moving to Colorado.

His Instagram profile shows him flying, skiing and snowmobiling in picturesque locations across the globe.

Lesh said he plans to leave Friday on a cross-country flight to deliver his other plane to a buyer on the East Coast. He said he’s not worried about the trip.

“I’ll always fly,” he said.