Bad gas. Far from shore. A perfect ditching in the Pacific and a quick rescue. . . what could be more perfect. Yet online observers are having a heyday with this one, claiming the ditching was an elaborate stunt designed to get publicity for the pilot, David Lesh, a claim the pilot strongly denies.
Here’s the back story. When Lesh’s newly purchased pre-owned Beechcraft Bonanza single-engine plane started losing power during an air-to-air photo shoot over Half Moon Bay on California’s Pacific Coast, he had no choice but to put it down in the water. And Lesh made a classic ditching, a textbook example of how to put it down in the water, leaving the gear retracted and skipping the Bonanza like a big stone over the surface until the plane came to rest. The entire ditching sequence was captured by the pilot in the second plane of the photo shoot.
Miles from shore and without any personal flotation devices, Lesh and his female passenger floated in the cold water as their plane sank beneath them. About 45 minutes later they were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter that was in the area doing rescue exercises, which was a lucky break, except the helicopter had to drop personnel off in order to pick up Lesh and his passenger, which left the pair in the drink for 45 minutes longer. When the helicopter did return Lesh was hoisted up first, ahead of his passenger, a move criticized by some. And then Lesh was apparently castigated by a Coast Guard crew member to pay attention to the rescue instead of focusing on the video. Lesh denies that was the case.
Throughout the ordeal Lesh continued capturing video of the event, even as he and his passenger were floating awaiting rescue. At one point while bobbing in Half Moon Bay, he blamed the engine failure on bad avgas he got when he got topped off before leaving for the photo shoot. He later came up with alternate scenarios, saying it could have been metal debris from the installation of tip tanks that had just been completed.
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In denying the ditching was a stunt, Lesh said that the plane was underinsured, and that he’d lose money on the loss. In his defense, others have pointed out that there were no flotation devices on the plane, not a Federal Aviation Regulations requirement unless you’re farther from shore than Lesh was, but a questionable choice nonetheless. Still, if someone were to stage a ditching, they would presumably bring flotation devices... though no one in their right mind would stage a ditching in the first place. Again, Lesh emphatically denies it was a stunt.
Lesh’s background fuels the speculation. A Facebook post he made earlier this year on April Fools' Day showed a staged photo of an abduction, with Lesh pointing visitors to the page to his company’s merchandise site as a way to pay the "ransom." Lesh says the post was clearly an April Fools' joke. Unfortunately, Lesh has been in hot water with the law before too, running into trouble for harassing wildlife, a moose he was cited for harassing--Lesh says he was running from the Moose. He was also cited for lighting shopping carts ablaze for yet another video. Lesh calls the infractions "very minor" mistakes.
The NTSB and FAA are investigating the ditching. We'll keep you updated as the story develops.
You can watch the video here.