Updated: Midair Collision Claims Four In Central Florida


Four people are dead after a midair collision March 7 between a Piper J3 Cub on floats and a Piper PA-28-161 Cherokee in Winter Haven, Florida. The Cub was operated by the Jack Brown Seaplane Base, and the Cherokee by Sunrise Aviation for Polk State College. The victims in the Cherokee were Sunrise Aviation flight instructor Faith Baker, 24, and Polk State College student Zachary Mace, 19. One victim in the Cub was identified by the Polk County Sheriff’s office as 67-year-old Randall Crawford of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The fourth victim has not yet been identified.

Witnesses described hearing the aircraft collide over Lake Hartridge. The Cub can be seen in helicopter news footage floating upside down, and first responders’ boats presumably over the Cherokee, which sank in 21 feet of water approximately a quarter-mile from the Cub. Winter Haven police and fire responded to the report of the accident around 2 p.m.

According to its website, Polk State College offers a range of degrees in aeronautical sciences, including associate degrees in professional pilot science, aerospace administration and aviation maintenance administration, and bachelor’s degrees in aerospace sciences. Widely respected, the Jack Brown Seaplane Base was started in 1963 by longtime seaplane enthusiast Jack Brown. In 2019, Brown’s son Jon sold the business to son-in-law and longtime instructor and FAA Designated Pilot Examiner Ben Shipps. According to its website, in its 57-year history, the specialized seaplane training operation has certified more than 22,000 pilots from all around the world and logs thousands of hours every year.


The fourth victim has been identified as long-time pilot and Jack Brown Seaplane Base instructor Louis DeFazio, 78, of Fredricksburg, Texas, and Winter Haven.

Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base posted on its Facebook page: “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. Our prayers and deepest sympathies are with the families, friends, and entire Polk State community as we walk through this dark time together.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. That’s sad to hear. I am one of those “more than 22,000” to have gotten my PPL and COM seaplane rating from Jack Brown’s.
    Their planes typically fly at 500 AGL (except for a bit higher when practicing stalls) and operate out of Lake Jessie, so I wonder why the two planes collided over Lake Hartridge, which is on the opposite (east) side of the airport.

    • If 29 was in use, what does the standard traffic pattern look like? Where would the base leg be flown?

  2. Not that it makes any difference to such a horrific tragedy, but particularly awful that this happened so close – geographically and time-wise – to Sun ‘n Fun in nearby Lakeland. Heartfelt prayers for those lost and for their families and loved ones.

  3. Sad news for all involved, including the Cub and Piper.

    See and avoid as best you can everyone, and remember not everyone has ADSB out or a transponder of a radio or electrical system for that matter.

    Also remember airplanes in flight can be nearly invisible.

  4. Sometimes this wonderful world of aviation is not so wonderful, it can also have its dark moments. Rest in peace fellows.

  5. So sad. Not an uncommon high wing low wing merger. Each type has to bank now and then to check the blind spot especially close to airports.

  6. The day before the accident I flew my annual splash and dash at Browns with Lou as safety pilot. He seemed to be knowledgable and very safety conscious.
    With 60 years with Cubs on Floats flying close to Winter Haven Airport, it’s amazing how safe it’s been.
    I too wonder why the Cub was at the far (east) side of the airport.
    Sad day for sure!

    • Do their Cubs have electrical systems? If not do they use handheld radios? I’m not passing judgment, I’m just curious because I’ve read they do have radios and I’ve read they don’t.

      • When I was last there (~2017, give/take a year), they only had a battery-powered headset intercom system, no radio.

  7. It is a simple and relatively inexpensive modification to install an antenna and ground plane on the wing or fuselage. A hand held aviation band radio connected to the antenna is usually equivalent to a nav/com. I’ve done this in two Aeronca 7AC. I did it as the owner and made a log book entry. It gave me peace of mind. But I must admit that my very rare near collisions in the airport environment were in fully equipped small singles.

  8. Normally no, a Cub doesn’t have an electrical system. At least the early ones didn’t. Now how would one comply with the ADSB mandate? I’m not being a Monday morning quarterback here, but me thinks that by now, ADSB shouldn’t be an option anymore. This event proves that.

  9. Even if a plane doesn’t have ADSB-Out – it was my understanding that if there is radar coverage in the area that picks them up, they will still be displayed for those who have ADSB-IN. The rub would be if they are in a remote area without radar coverage or possibly too low to be picked up. Is my understanding correct?

    • Not exactly – if the cub didn’t have a transponder at all, there would be nothing about it contained in the ADS-B traffic broadcast.

      • And also even if they were picked up on radar, it’s not exactly a real-time position. It takes some time to transmit it back out via ADS-R (if I remember my acronyms correctly).

  10. Chance of being in the mid air is quite low, but is one of the biggest fears of every pilot. Regardless of your skill or hours in the air, you can be taken out by another aircraft even when your doing everything right.