Man accused of snowmobiling illegally on Independence Pass crashes plane into Pacific Ocean |

Man accused of snowmobiling illegally on Independence Pass crashes plane into Pacific Ocean

John LaConte
Vail Daily
Frame grab of a video shot by Owen Liepelt on August 20, 2019, showing a downed plane in Half Moon Bay off the coast of California.

David Lesh, the snowmobiler who over the summer boasted about sledding on Independence Pass, crash landed his plane in the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday.

Lesh and his passenger were not hurt in the crash.

The incident was caught on video by pilot Owen Leipelt, who was filming as Lesh skipped the aircraft across the water about 4 miles off the California coast in Half Moon Bay. After filming the crash, Leipelt momentarily lost Lesh, but Lesh had his phone and was able to call Leipelt.

In recounting the incident to KGO-TV reporter Amanda del Castillo, Lesh described retrieving his phone before securing a PFD.

“Got the door open right away, piled out, grabbed my phone, grabbed some stuff to float with, and we stood on the wing as long as the plane was floating,” Lesh told del Castillo.

Lesh then recorded selfie videos of himself and his passenger floating in the Pacific Ocean and getting rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. He also recorded the plane sinking, saying “There she goes, I wonder if there was something in the fuel?”

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the cause of the crash, saying that it “typically takes up to a year” to determine the cause of an accident, reported on Tuesday.

In July, Lesh was criticized by snowmobilers after he was accused of snowmobiling in wilderness areas with no snow near Aspen.

Social media users said the snowmobiler who was photographed riding through an area with no snow near the Upper Lost Man trail on July 3 was obviously Lesh as, a day later, Lesh posted pictures of himself in the same outfit, riding a sled with the same custom paint work in the nearby Independence Pass wilderness area where snowmobiles are not allowed.

In addition to breaking the law, the snowmobilers caused damage to sensitive root systems and vegetation in the area, said Ecologist Dawn Barton, who witnessed the snowmobilers riding through the area with no snow on July 3. Barton said they were being “environmentally unconscionable.”

The incident prompted The Colorado Snowmobile Association, United Snowmobile Alliance and Backcountry United to issue a joint statement, condemning the snowmobilers actions.

The coverage and photos of the parties “operating snowmobiles without visible snow in a Designated Wilderness area does not reflect the Colorado community of tens of thousands of snowmobilers in any manner,” the statement said. “Rather this behavior is exactly the opposite of the community represented and is deeply troubling.”

The statement also said the groups are working with the Forest Service to identify and prosecute the parties. The U.S. Forest Service is still working on its investigation.

“We are fully cooperating with law enforcement efforts from the U.S. Forest Service and are helping to identify the individuals in these pictures and ensure they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Jones said in the statement. “Our organizations work diligently with public land agencies to ensure access and responsible recreation and as such, we do not condone behaviors that damage the natural resources of Colorado.”

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