By Sara-Megan Walsh Andy Kuppers – The Ledger

Four people died Tuesday when two small planes collided over Lake Hartridge in Winter Haven.

After hours of searching, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office late Tuesday night identified three of the four people who died in the accident, as well as the planes that were involved. They were Faith Irene Baker, 24, of Winter Haven, a pilot and flight instructor with Sunrise Aviation who was in a Cherokee Piper 161; Zachary Jean Mace, 19, of Winter Haven, a student at Polk State College who was also in the Cherokee Piper 161; and Randall Elbert Crawford, 67 of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, who was aboard a Piper J-3 Cub. Investigators were still trying to identify the fourth person, who was aboard the Piper J-3 Cub, and notify next of kin.

The Sheriff’s Office said the four people were the only occupants of the two planes that collided over the lake about 2 p.m. Tuesday. The lake is located just south of the U.S. 92 and U.S 17 junction and just east of the Winter Haven Regional Airport.

“It is no longer a search and rescue operation, but a recovery operation,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a Tuesday night news release.

The Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call at 2:04 p.m. reporting two small planes had a mid-air collision over Lake Hartridge, according to PSCO Chief of Staff Steve Lester.

A dive team went out on the lake around 4:35 p.m. One partially submerged plane’s wingtip could be seen from the lake shorefront. Lester said the second plane was about 21 feet underwater.

The Sheriff’s Office said the Piper J-3 Cub was a sea plane operated by Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base in Winter Haven. The Cherokee Piper 161 fixed-wing plane operated was by Sunrise Aviation our of Ormond Beach on behalf of Polk State College.

Winter Haven police and fire departments, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Fire Rescue, and Dundee Fire Department responded to the crash. Tuesday afternoon, the investigation was turned over to the Sheriff’s Office.

Lester said there police were interviewing several eye witnesses to the accident. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were expected send units to conduct their own investigation.

Lake Hartridge is a 437-acre lake largely surrounded by a mix of residences and businesses on all sides. The Winter Haven Regional Airport’s southeastern border runs near the lake’s northwest shore, separated only by 21st Street Northwest. To the south, only a small strip of land with businesses, apartments and a church separate the lake from Havendale Boulevard.

Tuesday afternoon, a lakefront resident of 20th Street Northwest, who declined to be identified, said that he heard the crash despite being indoors, but thought it was a motor vehicle accident on Havendale Boulevard. His son, who was on Lake Hartridge fishing at the time, said he heard the crash but upon turning around there was nothing to see.

Part of the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes, Lake Hartridge is connected by canal to Lake Conine in the northeast and Lake Idylwild in the southwest.

Tuesday night, the Sheriff’s Office in a news release asked for boaters to avoid Lake Hartridge as authorities continue to investigate.

“Additionally, we ask for citizens to please refrain from going to the Lake Hartiridge Boat Ramp to include the Lake Hartirdge Nature Park due to the increased law enforcement activity,” the news release said. “We will send out notification when the park is clear for the public use.”