STERLING, Va. — Patrick Merkle’s network of friends has been buzzing with concern and disbelief in the wake of the accident he and a passenger survived Sunday after Merkle's single-engine Mooney aircraft hit a high-voltage transmission line near Montgomery Airpark Sunday near Gaithersburg.
“I would definitely fly with him because I just think he's he's got a good head on his shoulders. And he knows what he's doing. He's been doing it for years,” said Loren Schaeffer of Sterling, Virginia on Monday.
Schaeffer said she has known Merkle since the friends attended high school together in Greenwich, Connecticut more than 40 years ago.
Schaeffer shared photos of flying with Merkle in recent years on trips to their hometown and other destinations.
“He prefers to fly than drive when it comes to short trips,” Schaeffer said as she described Merkle's meticulous approach to even routine flights.
"He goes through everything every single time. I go, 'Don't you memorize this checklist?' And he goes, 'I got to do it every time.'"
Schaeffer said Merkle told her earlier this month he would be flying with a friend to Connecticut for Thanksgiving weekend to visit his mother.
Schaeffer said hearing 911 calls Merkle made from the cockpit gives insight into his focus on the safety of his passengers first.
“He wasn’t panicking; he was calm about it, and he wanted to make sure his passenger was safe," she said.
She called the outcome of the incident "miraculous."
Schaeffer said Merkle is a DC area attorney who is divorced with adult children including a young Air Force officer and pilot.
Schaeffer credits Merkle with assisting her son with his application to the Virginia Military Institute.
She described Merkle as a "really good guy" who mentors students like her son.
She said he is known for cheerfully showing up at airplane hangers before his flights with doughnuts for ground crews.