Winter Haven seaplane crash seriously injures pilot and flight instructor

Polk County

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) — The two men who were in a seaplane that crashed into an orange grove in Winter Haven on Wednesday are in critical condition at a local hospital, deputies said.

The crash happened around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, it happened when the pilot tried to land the two-seater seaplane, described as a 1946 Yellow Piper J3C-65, on Lake Smart.

Shortly after the plane’s pontoons landed on the lake, deputies said one of the wings dipped down in to the water. That caused the plane to “catapult upward” about 50 feet. It then crashed nose-first into an orange grove about 40 yards away from the lake.

Deputies said there were two people on the plane when it crashed: John “Jack” Hamilton, 77, a licensed pilot from Tennessee and Landen MacFarland, 22, a flight instructor.

(WFLA Eagle 8 HD photo)

According to the sheriff’s office, Hamilton was visiting Orlando from Tennessee and went to the Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base in Winter Haven where he requested to fly with an instructor for “a refresher course.”

Both of the men were taken to a nearby hospital to be treated for serious injuries. A public information officer with the sheriff’s office said Thursday morning both men are listed in critical condition.

No one else was injured in the crash.

MacFarland is an employee at Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base, which offers “personalized seabase instruction,” according to its website.

“He had, like, an internship at the base over there over the summer and they ended up getting him in for a training and ended up just hiring him,” said Josh Furr, MacFarland’s roommate.

Furr said he and MacFarland both want to be airline pilots.

“We are heartbroken by the accident that took place yesterday. We are grateful for the rapid rescue efforts by the first responders. Our prayers are with the pilots involved, their families, and their road to recovery. The FAA and investigators have our full support going forward in the investigation,” wrote Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base president Ben Shipps.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are now investigating. The seaplane was still at the scene in the orange grove Thursday morning.

The flight is listed as an “accident” that happened under “unknown circumstances,” by the FAA.

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