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Off-duty cop helps save pilot after plane crashes into NH lake

Stoneham police officer Joe Ponzo says he was vacationing at the right place at the right time


First responders meet Officer Joe Ponzo at a dock after he helped save a pilot who crashed his plane into Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire on Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020.

Joe Ponz/WCVB

The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

MEREDITH, N.H. — A veteran Massachusetts police officer is being credited with helping save the life of a pilot whose plane crashed into a New Hampshire lake.

Stoneham police officer Joe Ponzo was off duty and on a family vacation at Lake Winnipesaukee when he saw an ultralight glider plane crash into the lake at about 3 p.m. Sunday.

Ponzo called the New Hampshire State Police Marine Patrol Unit and notified them of the crash before rushing his boat to the scene. The officer and other boaters worked to pull the pilot out of the water and onto his boat.

The pilot, identified as 78-year-old David Grapes, of Center Harbor, was conscious and alert.

New Hampshire State Police said the plane sank in about 65 feet of water.

“Thankfully, we were in the right place at the right time,” Ponzo said in a statement. “The plane sank into the water right after the crash and the man was able to get himself out before we got there. He was in the water and a few other boaters came to help me get him into my boat.”

“Even off duty, on vacation with our families, we are never truly off the job when duty calls,” reads a statement from Stoneham Police Chief James McIntyre. “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.”

Ponzo brought Grapes to shore and was met by members of the Marine Patrol Unit, the Laconia Fire Department and the Meredith fire and police departments.

State Police said Grapes was taken to Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia to be treated for injuries not considered life threatening.

Investigators said the plane was about 1,000 feet above the water when the engine stopped.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and the Federal Aviation Administration have been notified of the crash.

©2020 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.