Plane crash into pond kills pilot, 2 daughters

Flight plan indicated passengers were headed from Fort Pierce to Craig Airport

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 60-year-old pilot and his two daughters died when a small plane crashed Sunday night into a retention pond in a Sandalwood neighborhood, about one mile from Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport.

The Cessna 310 went down about 6:20 p.m. in a retention pond in the back yard of a home on Nettington Court, in the Sutton Lakes neighborhood off Atlantic Boulevard.

Gerald Vance, who lives in a house near where the crash happened, ran out and tried to help the victims immediately afterward.

"I told my fiance to call 911," he said. "I stripped off my clothes and just jumped into the lake, was pretty much just calling for any type of response I could get from anyone. It was very murky, very eerie."

Vance, who is a former lifeguard, said he didn't wait to try to pull the victims out with hopes of saving their lives.

"I jumped in the water and the pilot was kind of hanging out of the window a little bit," he said. "I was trying to pull on him. He was still in his seat belt, kind of attached. No movement, no life. And then I started slowly backing out of the water, and of course that's when I bumped into the female passenger who had been ejected, still attached in her seat. So I slowly started pulling her out of the water, and by that time some of my neighbors had came over and we got her onto the bank. It's very unfortunate."

IMAGES: Wreckage in retention pond

On Monday morning, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office identified the victims as Michael Huber, 60, Tess Huber, 20 and Abigail Huber, 17 -- all residents of Port St. Lucie, Fla. Their flight was heading from Fort Pierce to Craig Airport. 

Channel 4 has learned that Michael Huber was a dentist and Tess Huber was a University of North Florida sophomore who excelled on UNF's golf team.

Brian Morgan, of UNF athletics, said Tess (right, in photo above) went home this weekend to see her younger sister play in a golf tournament, and her dad was bringing her back to Jacksonville Sunday night for exams this week.

According to JSO spokeswoman Melissa Bujeda, the pilot radioed the Craig Airport tower to report he could not see the runway. Channel 4 meteorologist Rebecca Barry said visibility was about two miles in the East Arlington area at 6 p.m., about the time of the crash.

Shortly after the last radio traffic, the JSO 911 center began getting calls about a plane going down.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the plane crashed "after making a missed approach" to the airport.

"Very thankful nobody on the ground was hurt or it didn't hit a house," said Robert Gretz, of the National Transportation and Safety Board. "It hit a retaining pond very close to a house, and it didn't do any property damage and it didn't hurt anybody. Just looking around at how close the houses are together, it really is fortunate, as bad as this accident is, it could have been worse."

Vance said he first thought the plane was going to hit his house and feared for his 2-year-old daughter and his fiance.

"I got a family of my own. Thank God the pilot had the sense to move away from our home, because the nose of the plane was actually pointing at my back door," Vance said. " It could've been a very different set of circumstances at this point. So I'm just grateful to be here."

Others in the neighborhood said they heard the crash, and some reported their house shook when the plane impacted the water.

"It makes me a little bit nervous," resident Stephen Meckes said. "I'm shaking right now just thinking about it."

According to the Federal Aviation Administration database, the 1979 aircraft was owned by Hubaire LLC out of Fort Pierce.

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. NTSB said its investigation will focus on the pilot, the machine and the environment.

Records show Huber had been licensed to fly a single-engine aircraft since 2001 and received his instrument rating the following year.  He received his multi-engine certification in 2006.

Michael Huber's blood toxicology will be taken, and investigators will check the plane's maintenance records and look at weather data.

The NTSB's final report is expected to take about nine months.

A small crane was brought in Monday to remove the wreckage from the pond. Crews from the Department of Environmental Protection were there because of the fuel spill.

A previously planned golf fundraiser tournament at Deerwood Country Club went on Monday in memory of Tess. Her teammates and coaches participated in the tournament, which will now be known as the Tess Huber Memorial Golf Tournament. On the UNF campus, grief counselors were available for students, faculty and staff.

UNF athletic director Lee Moon said Tess was the most outgoing member of the team and loved the sport with all of her heart. Tess was one of the first female golfers to commit to UNF when its program started just last year.

Two months ago, Tess was named the Atlantic Sun Women's Golf Player of the Week.

Coach Joanne Steel said Tess paved the way for her teammates.

"Was really so good at pushing them to become better and say, 'Hey, follow me. I'll help you on this journey, on this path.' That's what Tess was all about, just wanting the best for other people."

Steele said Tess had a shy confidence about her and had so much control over herself as a player. Steele said Tess was tremendous on the golf course, but knew how important it was to also succeed in the classroom. And Tess was always smiling no matter what.

"Tess could be smiling and not playing a good round and she'd be like, 'It's OK, coach. Don't worry about it,'" Steele said. "And I'm the one who's supposed to say, 'Don't worry Tess. It's OK.'"

"Tess always had a smile on her face when I would see her walking to her room," said Anjelica Martinez, a UNF resident assistant for Osprey Village. "Occasionally, we would get to talk and catch up on life. She shared about her commitment and passion for golf. I made a bulletin board for Tess a few months ago to highlight her golf meets to encourage the other residents to support her and the team.

"Tess was a very sweet resident and easy to talk to. She had a strong relationship with her roommate and it was a joy to hear of the activities they planned together. As her resident assistant and friend, Tess' memories will remain alive in Village A."

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