HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — A small plane towing a banner crashed into the ocean on Friday during a lifeguard competition that turned into an actual rescue along popular Huntington Beach in southern California.
Corinne Baginski was at the beach for her 17-year-old daughter’s run in the youth lifeguard division at around 1.30pm when she heard the sound of the plane crashing into the water. She instinctively turned to the tent where the teenagers were waiting for the next event to begin as part of the 2022 California Surf Lifesaving Association Junior Lifeguard Championship.
“I heard a loud thud and then I looked at the tent and saw all the kids spinning and running,” she said.
Like well-trained rescuers, they ran towards the crash. The young lifeguards were told to stay on the beach, while the professionals quickly paddled over to the single-engine Piper Cub floating on its wings.
“Thank goodness there were plenty of lifeguards,” Baginski said.
The plane entered the ocean about 30 yards (27 meters) from shore, according to Coast Guard Lt. Sondra-Kay Kneen.
Baginski said the accident happened between the events and luckily there was no one in the water where he splashed.
The pilot was taken to hospital with bumps and bruises as a precaution, said Jennifer Carey, spokeswoman for the City of Huntington Beach.
Federal Aviation Administration records show the plane is registered with Van Wagner Aerial Media, a national aircraft advertising company. The company did not immediately comment on Friday afternoon.
Baginski said a friend of his daughter’s told him the plane was towing a banner. Another boy on the beach said the plane seemed to be losing power. The FAA is investigating the crash.
“One of the kids said the propeller wasn’t working,” she said. “He actually saw the plane go down.”
The pilot appeared to exit the plane on his own and was sitting on it floating when rescuers reached him, she said.
He was later seen sitting in the back of a lifeguard van on the beach with a neck brace.
The plane floated to the edge of the water, where the waves swept it back and forth.