A pilot and self-professed thrill seeker said Wednesday he was forced to bring his new plane down into the ocean off Northern California as it lost power, recording dramatic videos as he and his passenger treaded water in the chilly ocean awaiting rescue.
Talking to radio station KPIX 5, he admitted that he had heard the rumours circulating that the crash was not an accident an attempt for viral fame.
"I've heard that [people are saying ] 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."
On a phonecall to the Associated Press Lesh said that claims that he would have crashed his brand new plane and risk his life for attention were unfounded.
Lesh said he bought the plane for more than NZ$312,000 and spent about NZ$60,000 for upgrades. He said he took a loan out to pay for the plane.
Addressing online speculation that he had staged the water landing, Lesh said anyone who believed he would spend so much money on a plane only to sink it must have "lost their mind."
Asked for specifics about insurance, Lesh said he had "airplane insurance" and quickly hung up.
Five months ago Lesh was also the subject of a fake article claiming he had been involved in a separate plane crash and was being "held hostage by a Mexican drug cartel".
The eerily similar stunt featured pictures of a plane crash that were claimed to be of Lesh's aircraft, and a fake CNN article written by "Yamom Ishawt".
Lesh shared the article to his instagram with the hashtag #PrayForLesh as part of a publicity stunt for his clothing business.
Pilot David Lesh, a 34-year-old globe-trotting skier and the founder of Colorado-based outerwear company Virtika, had embarked on the flight Tuesday over Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco.
His plan was for friends in a second plane to photograph the first real trip of his single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza propeller plane with views of the coastline and Golden Gate Bridge to complement photos on his Instagram account showing him flying, skiing and snowmobiling worldwide. He had purchased the plane less than three months ago.
The plan was scrapped when the plane lost power while flying at 3,000 feet (915 meters).
"I just did everything I could to get the motor going again," Lesh said. "Nothing was working."
He reached out to Owen Leipelt, the pilot of the second plane carrying the photographer.
"David radioes to me that he's lost engine power," Leipelt said. "When you hear that, you think, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, what did I just hear, say that again.'"
Lesh said his plane "skipped along the water" for a few hundred feet without much of an impact. He and his passenger grabbed window shades and seat cushions to help them float in the water teeming with jellyfish as whales breached the surface nearby.
Leipelt, 20, of San Jose called air traffic control for help and circled over the two people in the water.
The Coast Guard dispatched two aircraft, a cutter and a patrol boat. Videos show a helicopter hoisting the soaked Lesh and his passenger out of the water about 20 minutes after the plane went down.
While in the water, Lesh filmed himself and his friend with his water-resistant cellphone as the plane sank in under a minute.
"There she goes!" he says in one video as the tail bobs in the water.
In the clip, Lesh speculates about its fuel. On Wednesday, he blamed bad gasoline for the malfunction, saying he had siphoned particulate matter out of the gas but thinks he didn't get all of it.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.
Lt. Cmdr. Joshua Murphy said the quick reporting of the incident by Leipelt "greatly aided the Coast Guard's prompt response and ability to save two lives."
Luck also helped, Leipelt said.
"The seas were very calm, it was daytime," he said.
Lesh said he plans to leave Friday on a cross-country flight to deliver his other plane to a buyer on the East Coast. He said he's not worried about the trip.
"I'll always fly," he said.
With additional staff reporting