HALF MOON BAY (CBS SF/AP) — The pilot who was forced to ditch his newly purchased aircraft in the ocean off Half Moon Bay brushed aside rumors Wednesday that the crash was staged and blamed bad fuel for causing the plane to malfunction.
David Lesh, a self-described social media daredevil, told KPIX 5 he had heard the rumors circulating that the crash was not an accident.
“I’ve heard some rumors,” said Lesh as he sat in the living room of his Bay Area home. “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.”
“I have a perfectly good second aircraft that I am selling that if I was going to crash, I would have crashed my old airplane,” he continued. “None of it makes sense. I would not have risked my life to get a 1,000 Instagram followers.”
Lesh admits to having created a daredevil persona on social media, particularly Instagram.
“I definitely have a daredevil image,” he told KPIX 5. “Most of that is a lot more calculated than people realize.”
What sparked many of the rumors is the quality of the video footage Lesh took while awaiting rescue. Among the images are selfies of him standing on the wing of his sinking plane.
“I have the presence of mind (to take videos in that situation),” he said. “I also have the presence of mind not to kill myself by putting it into the ocean. I have the presence of mind to grab everything out of the airplane that could help us in that situation including my cell phone. And I have the presence of mind to record that and every other aspect of my life. I’ve put basically everything I do on Instagram, Facebook.”
As for the amazing composition of the videos taken, Lesh said he has been creating videos since he was in 7th grade.
“I bought a Hi-8 video camera in middle school,” he said. “I’ve been making videos my whole life.”
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash, but FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said investigators had not yet spoken to Lesh.
The Bay Area pilot 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.
The 34-year-old 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, 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.
© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.