A small plane towing a banner crashed in the ocean Friday during a lifeguard competition that turned into a real-life rescue along Southern California’s popular Huntington Beach.
Corinne Baginski was at the beach for her 17-year-old daughter’s races in the junior lifeguarding division around 1:30 p.m. when she heard the sound of the aircraft slamming into the water. She instinctively turned to the tent where the teens were waiting for the next event to begin as part of the 2022 California Surf Lifesaving Association Junior Lifeguard Championship.
“I heard a thump and then I looked at the tent and I see all the kids turning and running,” she said.
Like well-trained lifesavers, they ran towards the crash. The young lifeguards were told to stay on the beach, while the professionals quickly paddled out to the single-engine Piper Cub that floated on its wings.
“Thank God there were a lot of lifeguards,” Baginski said.
The plane went into the ocean about 30 yards from shore, according to Coast Guard Lt. Sondra-Kay Kneen.
Baginski said the crash happened between events and, thankfully, no was in the water where it splashed down.
The pilot was taken to the hospital with bumps and bruises out of precaution, said Jennifer Carey, a spokesperson for the city of Huntington Beach.
Federal Aviation Administration records show that the plane is registered to Van Wagner Aerial Media, a national airplane advertising company. The company did not immediately have a comment Friday afternoon.
Baginski said a friend of her daughter told her the plane had been towing a banner. Another boy on the beach said the plane appeared to lose power. The FAA is investigating the crash.
“One of the kids said the propeller wasn’t working,” she said. “He actually saw the plane coming down.”
The pilot appeared to emerge from the plane on his own and was sitting atop it floating when the lifeguards reached him, she said.
He was later seen sitting on the back of a lifeguard pickup truck on the beach with a neck brace.
The plane floated to the water’s edge, where the surf washed it back and forth.