Written by STEFANIE DAZIO Associated Press
(AP) — The pilot who was forced to ditch his newly purchased aircraft in the ocean in Northern California said Wednesday he believes bad gasoline caused the plane to malfunction.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating. FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said investigators had not yet spoken to pilot David Lesh.
Lesh told The Associated Press he had siphoned particulate matter out of the gasoline but doesn’t think he got all of it. “This definitely was more stuff than I was used to seeing,” he said.
Lesh, 34, 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 the plane lost power.
“I just did everything I could to get the motor going again,” Lesh said. “Nothing was working.”
Lesh eased the plane into the water and he and his passenger, a friend, grabbed anything they could to float.
“We skipped along the water for a few hundred feet,” he said. “There wasn’t much of an impact.”
A second 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 told The Associated Press. “When you hear that, you think ‘woah, woah woah, what did I just hear, say that again.'”
Leipelt, 20, of San Jose, California, called air traffic control for a “mayday” response and circled over the duo. Meanwhile, Lesh filmed himself in his friend on 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. They were hoisted out of the chilly waters teeming with jellyfish by helicopter.
“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 helicopter pilot, said in a statement.
Lesh, 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 voyage.
Addressing online speculation that he had staged the water landing, Lesh said anyone who believed he would spend about a quarter-million dollars on a plane only to sink it, “they’ve lost their mind.”
Lesh said 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.