Friday, December 31, 2021

Robinson R44 Raven II, N442VB: Fatal accident occurred December 30, 2021 in Bronson, Levy County, Florida

Ronnie Hicks, 36, his wife Shelly, 32, and their children, eight-year-old Parker and five-year-old Jaylyn.

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; Tampa, Florida 
Lycoming; Atlanta, Georgia 
Robinson Helicopters; Torrance, California 

Hicks Seal Coating & Striping LLC

Location: Bronson, Florida
Accident Number: ERA22FA098
Date and Time: December 30, 2021, 20:29 Local
Registration: N442VB
Injuries: 4 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

On December 30, 2021, about 2029 eastern standard time, a Robinson R44 II, N442VB, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Bronson, Florida. The pilot and three passengers were fatally injured. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

The pilot departed a private residence located in Bronson, Florida, about 2020 destined for his personal residence in Bell, Florida. According to preliminary radar data provided by the Federal Aviation Administration, the helicopter continued westbound for about 2 minutes before radar contact was lost.

A witness, out walking her dog, stated that she heard a helicopter in flight about 2025. She looked for the helicopter; however, she could not see it because it was too dark outside, and she did not see any lights. Seconds later, she heard the helicopter crash and a “large fireball” lit up the sky. She called out for her mother to call 911.

The accident site was located in a wooded area and the wreckage path was about 225 ft long. The wreckage was heavily fragmented and scattered along a debris path on a heading of about 360° magnetic. The right skid was embedded in the ground at the main impact site, at a 42° angle. An 8-foot section of the main rotor blade was impaled in the ground about 3 ft deep. The engine was located about 225 ft north of the main impact point. The main rotor gearbox and sections of the main rotor blades were located about 175 feet northeast of the main impact point.

The wreckage was retained for further examination. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N442VB
Model/Series: R44 II 
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built:
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: IMC
Condition of Light: NightDark
Observation Facility, Elevation: KCTY, 38 ft msl 
Observation Time: 20:35 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 27 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 22°C /21°C
Lowest Cloud Condition:
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 6 knots / , 200°
Lowest Ceiling: Overcast / 600 ft AGL
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.06 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Bronson, FL
Destination: Bell, FL

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 3 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: On-ground
Ground Injuries:
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 4 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 29.419204,-82.646579 (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.

One of the most well respected and much loved families in Gilchrist County perished on Thursday evening, December 30th. Ronnie and Shelly Hicks and their children had left their home near Hart Springs in Gilchrist County, in their private helicopter. They flew to a young couple’s home southwest of Bronson. The couples and their children attended Ebenezer Baptist Church together and were friends. The families enjoyed an evening of fellowship before the Hicks family left in the helicopter just before 8:30 p.m., to fly home.

The Levy County Sheriff’s Office reported that they received a 911 call at 8:30 p.m. from an eye witness that reported a possible aircraft crash. Several minutes later a second call was received at the LCSO from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reporting a distress beacon in the same general location the witness had reported. Levy County Deputies responded to a wooded area off NE 60th Lane near Wekiva Road west of the Town of Bronson, where they discovered the scene of the helicopter crash.

The investigators learned the family of four were Ronnie, 36, his wife Shelly, 32, and their children, eight-year-old Parker and five-year-old Jaylyn.

Levy County’s Sheriff Bobby McCallum reached out to Gilchrist County Sheriff Bobby Schultz with the sad news of the crash. Sheriff Schultz contacted the pastors and together they notified both Ronnie and Shelly’s parents, who are Donnie and Tammi Hicks and Travis and Carmen Law, all of Gilchrist County. LCSO reported the aircraft experienced an undetermined failure causing the crash.
Their many friends began to learn of the tragedy on Friday morning. Everyone who knew the family were devastated by the news. They were an “all American family,” who worked hard and had great success in their chosen careers.

The Hicks were Trenton High School graduates, Ronnie graduated in 2003 and Shelly in 2006, they married in 2007.

After high school, Shelly become a Nurse Practitioner earning her degree from the University of Florida. She worked with Palms Medical Group in Bell, for several years. She had recently become a stay at home mom, and was helping her husband with their fast growing and successful business.

Dr. Bruce Thomas, Sr., Chief Medical Officer for the Palms Medical Group, said on Sunday, “To have known Shelly, Ronnie and their kids was a blessing. What an honor and privilege to have served alongside her as she took care of others. She is irreplaceable. Our community will forever be impacted by her love and care of others.” Dr. Thomas stated, “Her love, compassion and dedication to care for those in the Gilchrist County and surrounding areas was unsurpassed.”

Shortly after they were married they started a blueberry farm on their property and sold blueberries for a couple of years while starting Hicks Asphalt Paving and Concrete, a Trenton based company. The company has grown during the past 14 years, with many employees. Hicks was known for their quality work.

The family was very active in their church and in their community. They did a lot to support their former school and the community as a whole.

Ronnie had a very cheerful personality and never met a stranger. He was quick to give a big smile and a firm hand shake. Ronnie’s hobby was flying, first with a plane and more recently his Robinson helicopter.

They were both very involved with their children, spending a lot of time with them and encouraging them to succeed.

Parker, who was in second grade at Trenton Elementary, loved to play his ukulele and recently played it at the Trenton Elementary Rotary Christmas Concert, held on Dec. 13th. He also loved racing go carts with his dad. Jaylyn loved dancing and singing. As a family they were always together whether it was at the beach, camping or traveling, living life to the fullest.

In every way this young family was such a blessing to Gilchrist County, their families and their many friends.

Ronnie, Shelly, Parker and Jaylyn, will be greatly missed, but never forgotten.

Funeral services will be held at Trenton High School on Thursday, January 6, 2022, at 11 a.m., with visitation beginning at 10 a.m.

The families have requested that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the Ebenezer Baptist Church Building Fund in honor of the Hicks Family. The church mailing address is Ebenezer Baptist Church 12250 NE 30th Ave., Chiefland, FL 32626.

BRONSON, Florida - A father, mother, and their two children were killed Thursday night when their private helicopter crashed near the town of Bronson, according to the Levy County Sheriff’s Office. 

Investigators say a witness claiming to have seen a helicopter crash called authorities around 8:30 p.m. Several minutes later, the Levy County Sheriff’s Office 911 center received a second call from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding a distress beacon in the same general location.

Deputies discovered the crashed aircraft in a wooded area off of NE 60th Lane near Wekiva Road west of Bronson.

According to LCSO, the family took off from a private residence southwest of the town of Bronson in a privately owned Robinson helicopter on their way home to Gilchrist County.

The crash victims have been identified as Ronald Hicks, 38, Shelly Hicks, 32, Parker Hicks, 8, and Jaylyn Hicks, 5, of Bell, Florida. 

Detectives are working with investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the FAA as this investigation continues.

County Sheriff’s Office - 

On December 30, 2021 at approximately 8:30 p.m. the Levy County Sheriff’s Office 911 Center received a call from a witness reporting a possible rotorcraft crash. Several minutes later a second call from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was received who reported a distress beacon in the same general location. Deputies responded to a wooded area off of NE 60th Lane near Wekiva Road west of the Town of Bronson and discovered the scene of a helicopter crash.

Investigators learned a family of four; father, mother and two children departed a private residence south west of the Town of Bronson in a privately owned Robinson helicopter. The family was returning to their home in Gilchrist County. The rotorcraft experienced an undetermined failure causing the crash. All four occupants perished. Levy County Sheriff’s Office Detectives are working with investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the FAA as this investigation continues.

Sheriff McCallum spoke to members of the family and friends of the victims and expressed his deepest condolences. This is a tragedy that has deeply affected families in Gilchrist County, Levy County and the LCSO family, as one of our own Detectives is related to the victims.

Sheriff McCallum contacted Sheriff Schultz (Gilchrist County Sheriff) to notify him about the crash. Sheriff Schultz and local Pastors of the victims contacted family in Gilchrist County to deliver this terrible news. We all grieve this loss and are praying for these families in this time of tragedy. The family has requested privacy as they grieve their loss.


  1. I wonder why the Levi County Sheriff's Office press release says "The aircraft experienced an undetermined failure causing the crash."
    That statement seems to prematurely blame the aircraft and exonerate the pilot.

    1. correction: "Levi" should be "Levy"

    2. An expected response when you have personal knowledge of a pilot.
      "one of our own Detectives is related to the victims"


    1. Reduced lighting on ground as the track went over undeveloped forestry and wildlife reserve lands west of Bronson could easily lead to loss of visual reference at night in misty conditions.

      Map-pinned location of last FlightAware ADS-B data point:

    2. How low are (private) helicopters allowed to fly
      VMC above ground there?
      Is it like fixed wing?
      Scattered clouds between 500 and 700 feet according to the METARS someone posted below, of course may have be lower or higher at the site and becoming the overcast earlier than at KX60, dew point 1 degree Celsius of OAT.

    3. Helicopters: any altitude "if the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface".


      1SM clear of cloud for Class G, below 1200 AGL, helicopter, night, not within 1/2 mile of heliport of intended landing

      3SM, 500/1000/2000ft for both Class E and G above 1200, helicopter, night


      Looks like class E starts at 1200 there, NW of KX60 transition zone


    X60,2021-12-30 19:55,KX60 310055Z AUTO 22005KT 10SM SCT007 SCT065 21/20 A3007 RMK AO2 T02090204
    X60,2021-12-30 20:15,KX60 310115Z AUTO 22003KT 7SM SCT007 21/20 A3008 RMK AO2 T02070204
    X60,2021-12-30 20:35,KX60 310135Z AUTO 00000KT 7SM BR SCT005 21/20 A3008 RMK AO2 T02050203
    X60,2021-12-30 20:55,KX60 310155Z AUTO 00000KT 4SM BR OVC005 20/20 A3008 RMK AO2 LTG DSNT NE T02000199
    X60,2021-12-30 21:15,KX60 310215Z AUTO 23003KT 5SM BR OVC005 21/21 A3008 RMK AO2 T02060205
    X60,2021-12-30 21:35,KX60 310235Z AUTO 00000KT 5SM BR OVC003 21/21 A3009 RMK AO2 T02080206
    X60,2021-12-30 21:55,KX60 310255Z AUTO 21003KT 3 1/2SM BR OVC003 21/21 A3008 RMK AO2 T02090209


  5. Boy, if these Metars are correct this would make 3 low visibility rotorwing fatals in a month.

  6. Flightaware plot makes it appear that they orbited for 30 minutes over that home southwest of Bronson upon arrival at 4:52 PM.

    Looking closer, the track log time gaps suggest that there were actually four takeoffs right after arrival, making it possible that between four and twelve individuals were given a short ride in the R44 after it first got there at 4:52 PM.

    Orbiting attributable to rides suggests no malfunction with the R44 prior to the later accident takeoff. METARS for nearby Williston Municipal Airport (X60) for the arrival and rides period did not indicate poor conditions at that time:

    X60,2021-12-30 16:35,KX60 302135Z AUTO 26009KT 10SM BKN024 BKN029 OVC050 25/20 A3003 RMK AO2
    X60,2021-12-30 16:55,KX60 302155Z AUTO 24007KT 10SM BKN024 BKN031 OVC050 24/20 A3003 RMK AO2 T02410202
    X60,2021-12-30 17:15,KX60 302215Z AUTO 24006KT 10SM SCT019 SCT026 OVC050 24/20 A3004 RMK AO2 T02370203
    X60,2021-12-30 17:35,KX60 302235Z AUTO 23007KT 10SM SCT019 BKN034 OVC050 23/20 A3004 RMK AO2 T02340204

    From track log:
    Thu 04:52:42 PM
    >Arrival landing<
    >First riders load up<
    Thu 05:02:11 PM

    Thu 05:03:02 PM
    >New Riders<
    Thu 05:07:32 PM

    Thu 05:14:21 PM
    >New Riders<
    Thu 05:21:38 PM

    Thu 05:25:40 PM
    >New Riders<
    Thu 05:30:34 PM

    Thu 05:34:17 PM

    1. Nice analysis.

      I wonder if Mr. Hicks originally planned to return home earlier,
      while the natural light was good:

      5:42 pm: sunset (civil twilight began)
      6:08 pm: civil twilight (artificial light isn't needed) ended
      6:38 pm: nautical twilight (artificial light IS needed) ended
      7:07 pm: astronomical twilight ended (night began)
      8:23 pm: flight departed

      sunset source:
      Levy County, Florida, USA — Sunrise, Sunset, and Daylength, December 2021

    2. Adsbexchange doesn't capture everything, but there are recent N442VB flights that include dusk/night timing in the history. Apparently not operating as a daylight-only pilot.

      Still airborne after end of astronomical twilight:

      Still airborne at the end of nautical twilight:

      Arriving home base at end of astronomical twilight:

  7. The rotorcraft flight manual clearly states the helicopter can only be flown at night if there is adequate ground lighting, or celestial lighting illuminating the ground, sufficient to maintain orientation. Compliance with the RFM is mandatory. There was likely nothing wrong with the helicopter. The pilot was not in compliance with the RFM, lost orientation due to inadequate ground lighting, and crashed. The helicopter should have stayed on the ground after sunset, it really is that simple.

  8. It is difficult and heartbreaking to contemplate why a pilot would launch a flight--with his entire, wonderful family--into the conditions cited in NTSB ERA22FA098.

  9. Terrible. A nice family is gone, completely gone. How many times have there been crashes at night after a simple visit or fun time? The worst is inexperienced pilots flying over water at night with no horizon or other references. My opinion is that everyone should wait until daylight to return, no matter what.