Video of pilot floating in Pacific Ocean after plane crash was not a stunt, he says

A radio message Tuesday from a friend and fellow pilot shocked Owen Leipelt as the two flew along the California coast near Half Moon Bay to shoot some video, KNTV reported.

“Your heart sinks when you hear, ‘Mayday, I have no power,’” Leipelt said, according to the station. Then the other plane, piloted by David Lesh of Denver, went down in the ocean.

The Federal Aviation Administration says the single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza propeller plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean about 5:50 p.m., The San Francisco Chronicle reported. Lesh and a passenger were unhurt.

On Tuesday, however, Lesh denied suggestions the crash may have been a stunt to promote a video shot afterward of himself and a passenger floating in the ocean awaiting rescue.

“I’ve heard some rumors,” said Lesh, KPIX reported. “I’ve heard that I did this as a publicity stunt…No, it’s not true, for many reasons. One, I just bought this brand new airplane. It was my pride and joy on its first maiden voyage. I put a ton of money into it in the last 2 1/2 months making it exactly the airplane that I wanted. It’s actually insured for less than the actual value of the plane.”

Lesh said he’s trying to sell his old plane and would have used that one had he planned to crash as a stunt, according to the station. But Lesh conceded that he promotes daredevil videos on social media.

“I definitely have a daredevil image,” he said, KPIX reported. “Most of that is a lot more calculated than people realize.”

Lesh said he and his passenger escaped injury and fled the downed plane without trouble because he was able to bring it down safely, KGO reported.

“It skipped along the water a few times,” Lesh said, KGO reported. “There was, like, no impact. We were totally fine.”

Lesh and his passenger climbed out onto the wing until the plane sank, then floated in the ocean and shot some video while awaiting rescue, according to the station.

“So we’re out here in the Pacific Ocean floating around,” Lesh says in the video, describing how they’re using seat cushions and window shades as flotation devices. “Water’s a little bit cold, but we’re all right.”

“Hopefully someone comes (and) picks us up soon,” Lesh continues. The video then cuts to a Coast Guard helicopter coming to their rescue and winching them up to safety.

Leipelt had notified authorities immediately after Lesh’s plane hit the water, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The Coast Guard helicopter had been training nearby and responded quickly to the crash, KNTV reported.

Lesh and his passenger suffered only some jellyfish stings, according to the station.

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Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.