Lake Winnipesaukee

Glider Plane Crashes Into Lake Winnipesaukee, Off-Duty Stoneham Police Officer Helps Save Pilot

New Hampshire State Police say the ultralight plane was approximately 1,000 feet above Meredith Bay when the engine stopped.

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A man had to be pulled from Lake Winniepsaukee after the ultralight glider plane he was flying crashed into the water Sunday afternoon, authorities say.

The pilot, identified by New Hampshire State Police as David Grapes, 78, of Center Harbor, NH, was conscious and alert when he was rescued, Stoneham police said.

Authorities say around 3 p.m., off-duty Stoneham police officer Joe Ponzo was with his family on a boat as they vacationed in New Hampshire when he saw the glider plane crash across from Grouse Point in Meredith Bay, about 300 feet from him.

"I've been on the job for 23 years, and this is one of the most bizarre events I've ever seen," Ponzo said Sunday night.

New Hampshire State Police say the ultralight plane was approximately 1,000 feet above the inlet when the engine stopped.

"It just kind of dropped out of the sky and came nose first right into the water, and I was like oh my god, it just crashed," he recalled.

Within seconds of the crash, Officer Ponzo called New Hampshire State Police marine patrol to notify them of the incident, and then he rushed his boat over to the scene of the crash.

Marine patrol officer Zachary Cobis, who was patrolling Lake Winnipesaukee at the time of the crash, was also flagged down by a passing boater who advised him of what happened, state police say.

Ponzo says Grapes' plane sank right into the water after the crash, but Grapes was able to get himself out before he got there.

State police say the ultralight plane sank in approximately 65 feet of water.

After another boater got a life jacket on Grapes, Ponzo was able to pull Grapes out of the water onto his boat.

"Thankfully we were in the right place at the right time," Officer Ponzo said in a statement.

A nurse jumped aboard from another boat, and Officer Ponzo then got the pilot to a dock where medics met them.

Grapes, who was the sole occupant of the aircraft, sustained non-life threatening injuries and was taken by ambulance to Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia, state police said.

"I'm still shaken to be honest with you, and the fact that he didn't die is just amazing to me," Ponzo said of the pilot.

Stoneham Police Officer Joe Ponzo, pictured here during a Zoom interview.

Stoneham Police Chief James McIntyre credits Officer Ponzo with helping to save Grape's life.

"Even off-duty on vacation with our families we are never truly off the job when duty calls," Chief McIntyre said in a statement. "Officer Ponzo is a 23-year veteran of the Stoneham Police Department and he was the right person to be there when this man needed help. We credit Joe with helping to save this man's life and springing into action when he saw someone in need."

Agencies responding to the scene included New Hampshire State Police-Marine Patrol units, Meredith EMS, and Meredith Fire and Laconia fire departments.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and FAA were notified of the incident. 

The crash remains under investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact Marine Patrol Lt. Crystal McLain at 603-227-2113.

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