Thursday, October 21, 2021

Mooney M20J 201, N3933H: Fatal accident occurred October 21, 2021 near Holly Ridge/Topsail Island Airport (N21), Onslow County, North Carolina

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. 

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Greensboro, North Carolina
Lycoming; Williamsport, Pennsylvania 
Mooney International Corporation 

Location: Holly Ridge, North Carolina
Accident Number: ERA22FA024
Date and Time: October 21, 2021, 16:31 Local
Registration: N3933H
Aircraft: Mooney M20J 
Injuries: 2 Fatal, 1 Serious, 1
Minor Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

On October 21, 2021, at 1631 eastern daylight time, a Mooney M20J, N3933H, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident at Holly Ridge/Topsail Island Airport (N21), Holly Ridge, North Carolina. The commercial pilot and one passenger were fatally injured, one passenger was seriously injured, and one passenger received minor injuries. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

According to preliminary radar data obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the pilot and the front seat passenger completed a 30-minute local flight at 1603. Then, two additional passengers boarded the airplane before the accident flight departed.

Preliminary review of a video recorded by a witness at N21 revealed the airplane started its takeoff roll for the accident flight on the 3,591-ft-long grass runway. 

After lift-off, the airplane’s wings wobbled as it climbed, turned left and subsequently descended into a wooded area about two-thirds down the runway.

A video recorded by a surviving passenger revealed that the engine continued to operate throughout the accident sequence and sounds consistent with a stall warning horn before impact.

The airplane came to rest on a heading of 081°; the empennage was resting against a tree with the nose vertically into the ground.

The left wing was fractured at the wing root and separated from the fuselage, laying about 12 ft to the right, with the left-wing tip and aileron separated from the main wing and laying about 40 ft to the east of the main wreckage.

All engine structural components, fuselage and flight control surfaces were accounted for at the accident site.

The right wing and fuel tank remained attached to the fuselage and contained about 15 gallons of fuel. 

The left wing fuel tank was breached. 

Flight control continuity was confirmed from all flight control surfaces to the cockpit for the right wing and fuselage. 

Flight control continuity for the left wing was confirmed from the separation point of the wing to the aileron and flap.

The engine was partially disassembled to facilitate the examination.

The propeller was cut from the engine to allow for engine rotation. 

The crankshaft was rotated by turning the propeller spinner and continuity of the crankshaft to the rear gears and to the valve train was observed.

Compression and suction were attained from all four cylinders.

The engine driven fuel pump and fuel separator was disassembled, and fuel was observed in both components.

Initial review of maintenance records revealed that the airplane’s most recent annual inspection was last conducted on February 1, 2021.

According to FAA airman records, the pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, and instrument airplane. He received a BasicMed certificate on March 19, 2020.

According to the pilot’s flight logbook, he had accumulated 2,375 hours of total time with 2,311 hours logged as pilot-in-command as of September 19, 2021.

The airplane was retained for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Mooney
Registration: N3933H
Model/Series: M20J
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built:
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: NCA,26 ft msl
Observation Time: 14:56 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 14 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 24°C /14°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear 
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 4 knots / , 220°
Lowest Ceiling: None 
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.1 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Holly Ridge, NC 
Destination: Holly Ridge, NC 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious, 1 Minor 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal, 1 Serious, 1 Minor 
Latitude, Longitude: 34.492077,-77.536499 (est)

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email You can also call the NTSB Response Operations Center at 844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290. 

William Jennings "Will" Roberts Jr.

SURF CITY — William (Will) Jennings Roberts, Jr., 61, passed away on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021.

A memorial service will be 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 6, at Roseboro First Baptist Church with the Rev. Hampton Faircloth officiating.

Mr. Roberts was a native of Sampson County and was a retired senior engineer with Duke Energy. He was preceded in death by his brother, John Stewart Roberts.

Will was a life-long musician who enjoyed entertaining. He got his love of music from his mother. He performed regularly in Surf City where in 2019 he realized his dream of living on an island. He was an avid amateur radio operator with ham friends across the globe. His other loves included flying, traveling, and NC State.

He is survived by his parents, William Jennings Roberts, Sr. and Marilyn Gray Dunn Roberts of Roseboro; girlfriend, Lowell West and daughters, Delaney, Harper and Willow and several special cousins.

In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to Roseboro First Baptist Church, 3720 S Salemburg Hwy., Roseboro, NC 28382.

Services entrusted to Butler Funeral Home, 401 W. Roseboro St., Roseboro.

(Jamie) Willie James Hobbs, Jr.
April 5, 1964 ~ October 21, 2021 (age 57)

Willie James Hobbs, Jr. (Jamie), 57, of Hampstead, formerly of Clinton, passed away from injuries sustained from a plane crash on October 21, 2021, in Onslow County.

A visitation will be held on Tuesday, October 26, 2021, at First Baptist Church, Clinton, NC, in the Family Ministry Center from 6:00-8:00 pm.

There will also be a visitation on Wednesday, October 27, 2021, at The Gathering, Surf City, NC, at 2:00 pm followed by a memorial service at 3:00 pm.

Jamie worked closely with his father at Hobbs Auto Sales, Inc. He was also an auctioneer and an avid boater.  Every day was an adventure for Jamie. Whether it was riding his bike, skiing behind a boat, camping, or riding on the open road, he lived every moment to the fullest. Outside of his adventures, Jamie’s love for music and the stage was demonstrated through his participation in the praise band at his church, local gigs in the area, or on the stage at community theaters. It has been said that he could turn everything he touched into gold; he had the “Midas Touch”.

Jamie is survived by his children: Camryn, Daniel, and Ryan of the home; parents: Willie James Hobbs and Mary Ann Wright Hobbs of Clinton; sisters: Missy Tart (Kim) and Amy Spell (Gary Turner), both of Clinton, several aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. 

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to The Gathering at 304 Wilmington Ave., Surf City, NC 28445.

Will Roberts

Will Roberts

HOLLY RIDGE, North Carolina  — Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration arrived around noon Friday at the scene where two people died in a plane crash on Thursday in Onslow County.

Two people were killed and two others were transported to the hospital after a Mooney M20J plane crashed Thursday afternoon. Friday afternoon, the N.C. State Highway Patrol released the names of those involved in the crash. William Roberts, the pilot and owner of the plane, died along with passenger Willie Hobbs, Jr. Two children were also injured.

No names have been released, and the investigation was expected to continue into the weekend. The N3933H aircraft was registered to William J. Roberts Jr. of Apex, according to FAA registration.

On Friday, Pete Wentz, air safety investigator from the Ashburn, Va., NTSB Office, said the entire plane was located at the crash site, meaning no parts of it broke off which might have led to the crash. The plane was expected to be taken from the wooded area where it crashed to a site in Georgia for further examination at some point between now and Saturday.

“An examination of the engine, a further examination of the airframe, when we get it in, what we do is we call it a layout, where we lay out the aircraft and we open it up and look inside, inside the wings inside the fuselage, to make sure that things were connected properly, and so forth,” Wentz said.

Wentz also said they would be looking into the logbooks of the plane, the history of the pilot, the engine and other aspects of the plane itself. The crash site will also be examined.

The crash happened in the woods near the Holly Ridge-Topsail Island Airport, between Holly Ridge and Surf City. Cindy Bell, administrative assistant to the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed deputies were called to the crash around 5 p.m.

Emergency management, EMS, deputies and the NC State Highway Patrol were on the scene and were able to reach the location a short time after the report came in about the crash. An area at the intersection of North Smith Street and Sound Road was blocked off to traffic but has since reopened.

“As soon as all the family members are contacted and the investigation is over with, I’m sure they’ll release more details and information about the crash,” Longo said. “What normally I can confirm really right now is that we did respond to a plane crash.”

Holly Ridge Mayor Jeff Wenzel said the crash surprised people in the town.

“The town of Holly Ridge would like to extend our condolences, though, to those who lost loved ones,” Wenzel said. “And for those who were injured in this plane crash, and we hope for a speedy recovery for those who were injured and pray for peace for those who lost loved ones.” 

A preliminary report is expected to be released within two weeks on the cause of the crash. The full investigation is expected to take 12-16 months. Anyone with information they believe could help in the investigation is asked to call the NTSB at 202-314-6100 or email

The names of two victims killed in a plane crash that happened in Holly Ridge around 4:30 p.m. Thursday have been released by authorities.

First Sgt. Christopher Knox, public information officer with the North Carolina Highway Patrol, confirmed William J. Roberts and Willie James Hobbs Jr. died after the aircraft went down in a wooded area in close proximity to Holly Ridge/Topsail Island Airport. The names of two minors who sustained injuries have not been released.

"The town of Holly Ridge wants to express its condolences to the families of those who passed away and also for those who are injured," Mayor Jeff Wenzel said. "We will be praying for them as they grieve and as they recover. Any time something like this happens in the community, it's tragic. We hope the community will be able to gather around them and provide them support."

Government facilities and local businesses were showing their support Friday with flags flown at half-mast.

Pete Wentz, air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said Friday the board is conducting an investigation along with the Federal Aviation Administration, the aircraft's engine manufacturer and other agencies. The aircraft is a Mooney M20J that seats four occupants, owned by Roberts.

"We've established that all four corners of the airplane are at the crash site," Wentz said. "We have the nose, the tail and both wings, so we're very confident the entire airplane is here."

Wentz said a continuity control check determined the ailerons and other mechanisms were working properly. The next part of the investigation will focus on the pilot's training and experience, as well as the logbook for any pertinent information regarding the frame and engine.

"It's very preliminary right now," Wentz said.

Wentz said a preliminary report will be issued in the next couple of weeks, and the full investigation could take 12-to-16 months.

Parts of the wreckage will be extracted from the site in the next couple of days and transported to a facility in Georgia for further examination. Investigators are also looking at the conditions and weather around the airport at the time of the crash.

No distress calls would have been received at the Holly Ridge airport, a small, privately owned airport without a control tower.

Brandon Longo, Holly Ridge fire chief, said on Thursday that two minors in the crash were transported to trauma centers by air and by ground. The extent of their injuries has not yet been released. 

Wentz is asking anyone with information that might assist with in the investigation to contact the National Transportation Safety Board at 202-314-6100 or

ONSLOW COUNTY, North Carolina - Authorities have released the names of two people killed in Thursday’s plane crash in Onslow County.

The Highway Patrol says the pilot, William J. Roberts, and passenger Willie Hobbs, Jr. died. Troopers tell WITN that two children were injured.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the crash scene this afternoon.

The crash happened in a heavily wooded area adjacent to the Holly Ridge-Topsail Island Airport around 5:00 p.m.

Documents say the Mooney M20J is owned by Roberts who lived in Apex.

The Highway Patrol says witnesses saw and heard the plane seem to have “some type of stress” and be unable to gain enough lift during takeoff.

“The town of Holly Ridge would like to extend our condolences to those who lost loved ones and for those who were injured in this plane crash. We hope for a speedy recovery for those who were injured and pray for peace for those who lost loved ones.”

The NTSB said at an afternoon news conference that all parts of the aircraft were found at the wreckage site. The downed plane is expected to be moved with the next 18-24 hours.

A pilot who has used the airport said nearby power lines make it a challenge to navigate. Crews were seen this morning working on those lines, but we do not know yet if they played a part in the crash or not.

Federal investigators arrived at the crash scene right around noon.


  1. Prayers for everyone involved with this. 🙏 Everyone please stay clear of the area so emergency workers can do their job! 🚒

  2. I hate to jump to a conclusion so soon on this, but this has all the hallmarks of too much weight and not enough runway.

    1. Adults = thin built each
      Children = under 50 pounds each

    2. I get what you're saying, but the witness reports clearly seem to indicate that the weight of the airplane was a factor. How much baggage was on board? How much fuel was in the tanks? What was the actual empty weight of the airplane? Was the the engine of this 41 year old airplane really making 200 HP? The takeoff distance over a 50' obstacle chart in the POH assumes a paved, level, and dry runway, not a grass strip. The trees that surround that airport will block winds from most direction. Great if you're in a Cub and you don't want to deal with crosswinds. Not great if you're in a maxed out M20J that needs every last knot over the wings that you can get.

    3. Pilot here: Yes Weight and balance calculations is very important. Typically when you have these (4) passenger aircraft, they are not true 4 passenger. You have to take off with less fuel, and less baggage, etc. to compensate for actually having all the seats with passengers. Lets see what the FAA says...I hate seeing things like this..

    4. Former Mooney M20M TLS partner owner here which is a 270hp hot rod. Even with that additional 70hp over the J model, it is still just a two seater with full tanks and bags. Even with half tanks you are only getting sub-100 pounders in the back seats and 100lbs of baggage. That's why my partners and I upgraded to the slower but more utility friendly Bonanza.

    5. With respect Jonathan Payne, your statement ..."witness reports CLEARLY SEEM to indicate weight... WAS A FACTOR", is pure gibberish. Witnesses have no idea what happened. They only know what they think they saw. They haven't tested the fuel. They haven't checked for bird guts in the intake or bugs in the pitot. They haven't inspected the cabling or wires or rods or any of it. You are convinced it was a W/B issue with NO evidence. Just wild guesses peppered with jargon. "I hate to make conclusions." Then immediately jump to a conclusion. Pathetic.

    6. NO respect for you, Rusty, because JP's reasoned analysis was NOT "pathetic". Probably accurate...perhaps because it staggered into the air after a sluggish grass field takeoff AND was too heavy to climb over adjacent powerlines.

    7. Regarding the smackdown of Rusty's comment, the report says:

      "After lift-off, the airplane’s wings wobbled as it climbed, turned left and subsequently descended into a wooded area about two-thirds down the runway."

      So, the pilot got airborne, climbed higher than the trees on the left side of the field and the flight ended with one third of the available turf roll distance remaining unused over at the right side of the trees that he settled into.

      Sounds like he rotated about halfway down the 3,591 foot long grass runway but was pitched too steep. Very likely that he forgot to re-trim that full moving tail after landing the previous flight.

      Getting airborne at the halfway point of the turf runway was very unlikely if he was heavy. "Forgot to re-trim" Mooney stall crashes on takeoff are frequently reported events on KR.

      Incorrect to abuse Rusty if you grasp what the report describes.

    8. "Probably accurate" and "Clearly seem" are not terms that describe evidence. JP may have made a reasoned analysis, but it was based on unverified information. Making a definitive statement that the "weight was a factor" is armchair quarterbacking at best. Perhaps the NTSB should just go with JP's assessment and publish his report.

      Jumping to conclusion and essentially besmirching the reputation of fellow pilot based on flimsy information is inexcusable. When the cause is determined by an actual investigation then we can talk about root causes. Until then speculation is disrespectful and unprofessional. "Pathetic" stands.

  3. There are powerlines directly at the end of rwy 32. Check the NOTAM for the airpark.

  4. 4 people in a Mooney in a high DA situation? And the average person't doesn't weight 170 lb which is the assumption when those planes were built...

    1. Adults = slender built
      Children = under 50 pounds

    2. One of the first CG exercises I had to do for my private was W&B for a small 4 seater with actually 4 people in it... 2 X 110 lb in the back and 2 X 180 lb in the front... even then to stay below gross weight a Cessna, Piper or Mooney would carry just enough fuel for like 50 miles + reserve of 1/2 hr.
      The real issue if no matter how you cut it a small GA 4 seater is really a 3 seater if anything beyond a 20 min sightseeing flight is considered.
      Maybe everyone was slender here but as shown above small aircrafts are extremely limited when it comes to passenger qty.

    3. Probably true for some stock models. See also comment of M20j owner below. I rented a Cessna 172 with a Penn-Yan conversion, 180hp, different prop and some wing modifications AND 2550 lbs gross weight!, if I remember correctly.
      4 adults 185lbs+ x2 front, 180+120 back, some very light baggage and full fuel at 7000ft in Flagstaff in early February, within W&B envelope and flew great up to 11,5000 feet, incoming airliner around Phoenix on same frequency asked us how we made it up there.

    4. As a former commercial pilot with a CFI rating, I once took off in my C-172, full fuel in the middle of summer in east Texas, admittedly in the morning, with 3 very large forestry guys doing bug patrol. But, I had the advantage of a 6500+' paved runway and I rotated 60Kts above the recommended Vr1 and I made very slight coordinated turns as we did the bug patrol. My cautious flying allowed me to land in one piece but it didn't keep the forestry guys from blowing chunks.
      Proper Prior Planning the 3 "P"s and
      "There are old pilots and there are bold pilots but there are no "old bold" pilots!"

    5. I am confused by your statement of rotation 60kn above recommended Vr. In a 172 Vr is 55kn therefore you were doing 115kn at rotation?

    6. "I am confused by your statement of rotation 60kn above recommended Vr. In a 172 Vr is 55kn therefore you were doing 115kn at rotation?"

      I read that to mean he rotated at 60kts not 55 and missed a word in there. A 172 will get airborne on its own near MTOW beyond about 65KIAS on the ground with zero flaps on takeoff.

    7. The comment above gives me shudders... you took off full fuel and over gross weight violating 91.103? It is a violation of Federal Law to take off knowingly above gross weight in an aircraft. Not only that the insurance will be negated should a mishap happen. You clearly stated you didn't do any W&B and allowed 3 large guys to go in a C172 full fuel which by definition puts you over gross weight. People who fly like that should have their certificates revoked.

    8. MarcPilot, you are flat wrong; you do not know Mooneys. In my '67 M20C I can carry four 170lb people, 40 gals fuel (good for > 3 hours w/ 45 min reserve @ 135 kts) plus 50 lbs of baggage. That's more than 400 nm and under gross. And by the way, pilot error does not negate insurance. That's preposterous.

  5. If there was no fire, it should be possible to do a proper evaluation of the single drive dual magneto, which always comes to mind when a J model Mooney goes down right after takeoff.

  6. Not to discount possible weight/balance and density altitude issues (plus it doesn't seem like the most friendly runway for a Mooney), I'd like to offer this as food for thought from my own experience.

    My husband and I own a 1980 M20J and live close by, in Wilmington (KILM). We bought it July 2020, had a pre-purchase inspection and a fresh annual. The airplane had been hangared and looked great, and under 800 hours SMOH. But but but! It had sat a LOT during the past 10 years. All this came out when I had engine out #1, doing solo touch and goes, a barely 200-hour pilot. 200 ft up on the second lap, the engine lost a power and sputteees to idle. Thankfully, I have a great instructor who taught me well how to handle these things instinctively. As in, don't climb lest you stalk into the ground. Was able to land on remaining runway. We had the mag (Bendix D3000) replaced, and the valve guides boroscoped and reamed. She was cleared to fly. Twelve hours later, Engine out #2 occurred, again on takeoff but at about 400 ft, this time practicing for my IFR rating with my instructor, not as dramatic as the first but bad enough, and once again able to land without incident, thanks to our 8000' runway. Back to the shop, new prop governor and replaced entire fuel injection system. Thus seemed to do the trick. After several blissful flights, I was starting my checkride, examiner in the right seat, and the damn thing acted up again, this time thankfully while still on the ground holding short. This time it was spa plugs! My husband and I had previously urged they be replaced, as they were last done in 2003 after 426 hours (their life limit is 300 hrs). My point by all this is that these old engines and especially supporting systems suffer horrible if allowed to sit for extended periods. I assume the investigation will reveal the history, but what upsets Mr is that we did what we thought was necessary to ensure the aircraft would be safe when we took delivery. We had the logbook, yes, but the trick is researching ADs and SBs to discern the hour limits AND time limits on various components. Had we known this at purchase, we would have immediately had the entire powerplant replaced. Based on witness accounts, I fear that some powerplant failure had a part in this, and that it happened at a critical altitude and a stall ensued. Our prayers go out to these poor families, and the community.

    1. It's tough to read your post. Glad you and no one else was hurt.

      I'd find someone else to do your maintenance. After situation #1 why wasn't the motor gone through prop to firewall? If this was done, I'd find someone else to do this work. You urged plugs be replaced and they didn't? Who makes decisions here?

      Aviation is not a forgiving business. It's serious from the time you close the door getting in until you re-open it to step out.

  7. So, the M20J I fly can comfortably take four adults (135-190lbs) with light bags and half fuel, which is enough for around 280nm with 1-hr reserve. The a/c handles fine, even when there is a bit more fuel than planned. Now, would I attempt to take off from a short grass strip at high DA at max gross? Certainly not.

  8. For some reason they didn't publish my edited version; sorry for all the typos!

  9. Why would anyone say "high density altitude"?

    N21 elevation is 48 feet MSL, temperature was 75 F, dewpoint 57F.

    Nearby Wilmington METAR at the time:
    KILM 212100Z AUTO 20011KT 10SM CLR 24/14 A3010

    Power lines were not a concern. The takeoff was on runway 32. Power lines on Stump Sound Church road at the west of the field are not higher than the trees.
    Street view:

    The 3,591 foot long grass runway is not a "short grass strip".

  10. "... look at Flightaware and Kathryn's Report it is an 1980 J model N3933H, It had been flying from that grass strip and along the island and back to N21 about an hour earlier before the crash on takeoff at around 5 pm EDT. N3933H Flight Tracking and History - FlightAware" @ mooneyspace

  11. I shudder when I read stories like this. I recently had a similar experience in a PA-32R-301, which is no slouch. I did my W&B, and flew the plane by the numbers, but on a hot day, short field, and power lines on both ends, it was way closer to the edge than I wanted to be. Praise be for a fresh engine and good maintainer. Thanks to KR for keeping us all honest, but damn is it horrible to read these stories. RIP and tailwinds to the departed.

  12. If the stall horn was going off with engine producing full power, it could have been a power curve issue. He should have been climbing at Vx, which is usually more than 10kts above the stall horn speed. Stall horn speed is in a region of the power curve where you are losing significant energy to induced drag. For a soft field takeoff, you get the nose off as soon as you can, lower it slightly to get the mains off, and then lower the nose to Vx for climb. If he was worried about weight, runway length, and trees, it would have taken a lot of will power to fight his instincts and lower the nose (the Mooney also has a fairly nose low “sight picture” in climb). When things start going wonky, your brain says, “pull away from the ground and as long as I am not stalling, I’m good”. There are quite a few YouTube videos of people trying to out climb terrain or extend their emergency glide with the stall horn going off. The are at least 10kts too slow. Every pilot should placard Vx above their airspeed indicator since it is the most important speed at times when your brain is getting overloaded.

  13. I knew the pilot of this aircraft, and have flown in it with him. He owned this aircraft for about 25 years and flew it regularly...without having his logbook, I'd say thousands of hours. He was instrument rated, and I'm fairly certain had a commercial certificate. While I don't know what happened when he was killed, what I do know is that he was familiar with the airstrip, and that he maintained the Mooney pretty meticulously. As his brother-in-law told me a couple weeks ago "Will never spared any expense on the Mooney".

    We'll see what the FAA/NTSB says, eventually.