POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Four people died after two after two small planes collided near Winter Haven Regional Airport Tuesday afternoon.

According to the Winter Haven Police Department, search and rescue crews responded to Lake Hartridge, immediately east of the Winter Haven Regional Airport, after two small planes collided with each other around 2 p.m.

“It was an in-air collision and both planes immediately went into the water,” Polk County Chief Steve Lester said.

Investigators said one of the planes was a Piper J-3 Cub seaplane operated by Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base in Winter Haven. The other plane was a Cherokee Piper 161 fixed wing plane operated by Sunrise Aviation (Ormond Beach) on behalf of Polk State College.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has identified all four people who died in the crash. They include pilot Faith Irene Baker, 24, of Winter Haven, Polk State College student Zachary Jean Mace, 19, and Randall Elbert Crawford, 67, from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Louis C. DeFazio, 78, from Fredricksburg, Texas (and Winter Haven, Florida).

“It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the loss of instructor and dear friend, Lou DeFazio, and fellow seaplane enthusiast and long time customer of the Base, Randall Crawford, in yesterday’s accident,” Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base posted on its Facebook page. “Our prayers and deepest sympathies are with the families, friends, and entire Polk State community as we walk through this dark time together.”

The seaplane base said they’re working with local authorities, the FAA, and the NTSB as the investigation continues.

“Our hope and prayer is that all affected by this tragedy feel God’s peace as we love each other through this difficult time,” the base wrote.

Deputies said both planes are still in the lake and are expected to be recovered sometime on Wednesday by a contractor working with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

“My heart goes out to the families and friends of those who were killed in today’s crash. The NTSB and FAA will be investigating the cause and circumstances of the collision. Please keep the families in your prayers during this difficult and stressful time,” Sheriff Grady Judd said.

Lester said one of the two planes sank 21 feet under the water.

The Winter Haven Police Department is asking citizens who boat in the Chain of Lakes to avoid boating into the area of Lake Hartridge until further notice.

Police are also asking to refrain from going to the Lake Hartridge boat ramp including the Lake Hartridge Nature Park due to increased law enforcement activity.

Polk State College said the following in a statement on Tuesday:

“Our Polk State College family is devastated by this tragedy. We extend our deepest condolences to their families, friends, and colleagues.”

President Angela Garcia Falconetti

Polk State College will offer support to students and staff on campus and online through the BayCare Student Assistance Program and the Employee Assistance Program.

Both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will investigate the crash, with the NTSB in charge of the investigation. 8 On Your Side has reached out to the board for comment as well.

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