Sunday, December 26, 2021

Mooney M20J 201, N3707H: Fatal accident occurred December 26, 2021 near Herlong Recreational Airport (KHEG), Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida

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; Orlando, Florida
Lycoming; Williamsport, Pennsylvania 

Sterling Silver Flyers LLC

Location: Jacksonville, Florida 
Accident Number: ERA22FA095
Date and Time: December 26, 2021, 11:04 Local
Registration: N3707H
Aircraft: Mooney M20J
Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

On December 26, 2021, at 1104 eastern standard time, a Mooney M20J, N3707H, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident in Jacksonville, Florida. The pilot and passenger were fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 personal flight.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) preliminary tracking data, the airplane departed the Herlong Recreational Airport (HEG), Jacksonville, Florida about 1041 for a local flight to the north. The airplane returned to HEG and entered a left base leg of the traffic pattern for runway 25 about 1101. Review of an airport surveillance camera video recording revealed that the airplane performed a low approach to the runway (estimated to be about 50-100 ft above ground level (agl)) with the landing gear extended, but did not touch down. The groundspeeds recorded by the FAA tracking data varied from about 50 to 56 knots during the low pass and departure until the recorded data ended.

A witness located at the airport observed the airplane flying over the runway. When he first observed the airplane, it appeared to be flying “slowly” with a “very high angle of attack.” The nose of the airplane then lowered, and the noise of the engine RPM decreased slightly and momentarily before returning to its previous level. The engine sounded “normal” and “did not sputter, pop or falter at any time;” however, the airplane appeared to be “barely climbing.” When the airplane reached about ¾ of the way down the runway, the landing gear retracted, and the baggage door opened upward. The baggage door remained open and looked “like a sail” on top of the airplane. After the door opened, the airplane did not appear to climb any further. It “drifted or turned very slightly to the right” before the witness lost sight of it behind a tree line. The airplane was too far away from the airport surveillance video camera to see the condition of the baggage door.

A pilot in the HEG traffic pattern observed the airplane as it flew past the departure end of the runway. It appeared to be a “normal” departure along the extended runway centerline; however, when the airplane reached about 200-400 ft agl, the right wing dropped and the airplane “appeared to enter a spin.” The “attitude was almost vertical at this point” and the airplane continued “in this spin or spiral” until it impacted the ground. 

Examination of the accident scene revealed no debris path or ground scars in the vicinity of the wreckage. The airplane came to rest upright, with the fuselage oriented on a heading of 287° true, about ½ nautical mile from the departure end of runway 25, and about 400 ft to the right of the extended runway centerline. The fuselage section from just forward of the horizontal stabilizer to the engine
cowling was largely consumed by fire. Both wings remained largely intact, although both sustained leading edge crush damage and significant fire damage from the root area to about the outboard edge of the flaps. Both flaps were partially separated from their hinge points, and the inboard ends of both flaps were partially melted. Examination of the flap actuator jackscrew revealed 9-10 exposed threads, consistent with the flaps extended to the 10° takeoff flap setting. Both ailerons remained attached, and flight control continuity was confirmed from the left aileron to the left wing root area. The right aileron bellcrank was impact-damaged and impinged against the wing spar. The push-pull tube between the bell crank and the aileron horn was fractured. Continuity was established from the elevator and rudder control surfaces to the area of the rear seats. The pitch trim torque tube was fracture-separated at its attachment bolt just forward of the gearbox. The torque tube was manually rotated 7.5 full turns before the pitch trim reached the full airplane nose up stop. This was consistent with an as-found pitch trim position at or near the “takeoff” setting. Remnants of the three landing gear were found in the retracted positions.

The baggage door piano hinge remained mostly intact and remained partially attached to its mount. About 2” of aluminum structure remained on either side of the hinge along most of its length. The forward ends of the aluminum sections were partially melted. The latching mechanism was found largely intact, fire damaged, with none of the door structure attached. The lock cylinder and exterior
latch handle were not found, however silver/grey molten metal remained on the center section of the assembly. Both engagement rods remained intact and attached to the assembly.

The propeller hub remained attached to the engine crankshaft flange with the hub and spinner partially buried in soft, sandy soil. One propeller blade remained attached to the hub, above ground and undamaged, except for loose snap rings and shims in the hub. The other blade was separated from the hub and buried in the impact crater. It was bent slightly forward and exhibited abrasion of the paint
along the length of the leading edge. Radial score marks, consistent with starter ring gear rotation, were present on the forward section of starter drive housing.

The engine crankshaft was rotated by hand at the propeller hub. The engine rotated smoothly with no binding. Valvetrain and crankshaft continuity to the accessory section were confirmed, and each cylinder produced thumb compression and suction. The oil suction screen was absent of debris. The oil filter was fire-damaged, and the internal filter element was charred, with no metallic debris present. All spark plug electrodes were grey in color and appeared “worn – normal” when compared to a Champion Check-a-Plug chart. The single drive dual magneto was found separated from the engine and fire damaged, which precluded testing. The engine-driven fuel pump was separated from the engine and partially melted, precluding testing. The fuel flow divider was undamaged, the diaphragm was intact, and was damp and smelled of aviation fuel. All four fuel injector nozzles were removed and found unobstructed. The turbocharger inlet and exhaust tubing were partially crushed, the shaft spun freely when rotated by hand, and no damage was found on the compressor or turbine blades. 

The wreckage was retained for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Mooney
Registration: N3707H
Model/Series: M20J NO SERIES 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built:
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: HEG,87 ft msl 
Observation Time: 11:15 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 1 Nautical Miles 
Temperature/Dew Point: 22°C /18°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Scattered / 1700 ft AGL
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 9 knots / , 260°
Lowest Ceiling:
Altimeter Setting: 30.13 inches Hg 
Type of Flight Plan Filed:
Departure Point: Jacksonville, FL 
Destination: Jacksonville, FL

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Aircraft Fire: On-ground
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal 
Latitude, Longitude: 30.273452,-81.824965

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. 

Arron Sterling

JACKSONVILLE, Florida – A 28-year Navy veteran, who just became a grandfather last year, died in a plane crash on the Westside, one day after Christmas.

Arron Sterling, 56, and Louis Pasderetz, 27, died after the plane they were flying in suddenly crashed near Herlong Recreational Airport on December 26.

Sterling’s family said he lived a beautiful life but losing him has been devastating.

Sterling was also the owner of Sterling Silver Flyers, LLC. According to public records, he’d had the business for four years.

According to his family, Sterling served the country in the United States Navy for 28 years, he retired in 2011 as a lieutenant commander. His Navy career began at the young age of 18. He would make chief and become an officer after 12 years.

Sterling’s life journey brought him to Jacksonville two years ago to work as a project engineer at Naval Station Mayport.

His life was taken in a tragic plane accident December 26. Investigators are still trying to figure out what happened just moments before the crash.

For those who knew Sterling, he will be deeply missed. He was loved by many as a son, father, grandfather (his grandchildren affectionately called him Poppy), a brother, shipmate, mentor and friend.

Sterling’s family also said he never met a stranger and was always lending a hand to help someone with various projects.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Louis Pasderetz also served in the Navy with the Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 60 in Jacksonville. He was 27 years old.

Louis Charles Pasderetz

JACKSONVILLE, Florida – One of the two men who died in a small plane crash on the Westside was active duty Navy.

NAS Jacksonville confirmed he was 27-year-old Louis Charles Pasderetz.

Since his tragic death, there’s been an outpouring of mourners from Illinois, Virginia and Florida, all saying he was taken too soon.

“A good man and friend,” Those are the words heard by many as they mourn the death of Louis Charles Pasderetz.

Pasderetz was one of two people in this single-engine plane crash. Onlookers said they tried to rescue the two, but the plane was fully engulfed in flames.

“Still can’t believe it,” one friend said. “You were one of my first buddies at the squadron. You always knew what to say and had so many great stories...”

According to the United States Navy, the 27-year-old was an Aviation Machinist’s Mate Second Class. Pasderetz was assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 60 since the summer of 2020.

His hometown was Palos Hills, Illinois but he’d made friends along the east coast including North Carolina, Virginia and Florida.

Outside of the military he had a love for truck racing and was the “Super Trucks Division Champion” for military competing at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia in 2020.

JACKSONVILLE, Florida – Two people who were on board a small airplane died Sunday when it crashed near an airport on Jacksonville’s Westside, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA said the crash happened around 11:30 a.m. about a mile from Herlong Recreational Airport. The Mooney M20J crashed in a field off Parrish Cemetery Road after departing from the airport and flying for about 20 minutes, according to JSO.

Witnesses said they saw the plane nosedive seconds before the crash. Video taken shortly after shows the plane on fire. News4JAX obtained the video. You can find it here. Viewer discretion is advised.

One witness, Kevin Williams, ran outside after hearing the plane crash.

“We immediately saw the plane on the ground engulfed in flames,” he said. “Myself and some family members hopped across the fence to try to see if we saw people that got outside the plane or anything like that but unfortunately, we didn’t see anybody.”

The FAA and NTSB will determine the cause of the crash. No other details were immediately known, including the identity of the passengers.

“The plane was pretty much totally engulfed in flames, and at that point there was really nothing that we could do,” said Williams.

He says he and his family called the police.

“We were hoping because we actually did see skydivers behind the actual plane. We were thinking maybe those were the people that got out but that wasn’t the case,” said Williams.

JSOs homicide unit, NTSB, and the FAA are investigating this crash.

JSO said they haven’t identified the two victims.

And its last flight was December 17th, where it flew for 18 minutes.


  1. Tracks:

    KHEG 261635Z AUTO 28008G14KT BKN019 BKN024 23/18 A3013 RMK AO2
    KHEG 261615Z AUTO 26009KT SCT017 22/18 A3013 RMK AO2
    KHEG 261555Z AUTO 23008KT CLR 21/18 A3014 RMK AO2

  2. Weather no factor. Appeared to enter the left traffic for RW 25, then fly an upwind or low pass. With speed decaying, ending in a stall about a half mile off the departure end of 25. Pilot incapacitation?

    1. Posted the METARS to show what the headwind was at time of crash, since ADS-B shows ground speed, not airspeed.

      Discussion on Mooneyspace regarding initial takeoff, where a turn was started with just 57 knots ground speed at 10:41:36 EDT / 15:41:36Z. With 8 knot headwind that's just 65 knots. At 10:41:45, the turn has lost the headwind and that 60 knot ground speed = airspeed.

      The 49 knot mid-field ground speed at 11:03:10 suggests a touch and go was performed right before the crash. Maybe low performance on initial takeoff degraded further after the touch and go.

    2. Eyewitness stated plane did a low speed flyover, not a touch and go...When will theses airports spend a few hundred dollars and put simple cameras on the airport??

  3. Has anyone found out who this was and what they were doing yet? Seemed it flew three times in the last few months. Maybe it was getting maintenance and being test flown? Mechanic on board?

    1. Louis Charles Pasderetz, United States Navy Aviation Machinist’s Mate Second Class.

  4. The pilot was an experienced 56-year-old retired Navy (he was family, so I know...withholding name pending official release). The Mooney had recently undergone an annual and this was just a pleasure flight with two friends on board with a tragic ending. Pasderetz was the passenger.

    1. OK it's out now. Arron Sterling was the pilot.

  5. A Mooneyspace post notes low compression on one cylinder.

    1. I never knew that low compression on one cylinder could cause a baggage door to fly open. o_O

    2. Low performance was evident long before baggage door popped open.