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What we know about co-pilot’s mysterious mid-flight exit before Raleigh crash

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A 23-year-old Raleigh man died Friday after he jumped or fell out of a plane that went on to make an emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

While many questions remain unanswered about the mysterious event, some basic information — such as the identity of the deceased co-pilot, the flight’s path, the type of plane involved and more — is available.

To help you better understand what happened, we’ve compiled answers to common questions you may have about the event, using information from The News & Observer’s previous reporting.

We’ll update this story with additional answers as we learn more about what happened.

What happened?

A plane made an emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Friday afternoon.

The plane was originally carrying two licensed pilots, but one pilot — Charles Hew Crooks, a 23-year-old pilot and flight instructor — exited the plane before the emergency landing.

The plane had previously attempted to land near a private airport in Raeford earlier Friday afternoon, when the right wheel of their turboprop plane fell off.

The pilots called air traffic control about the emergency. It’s not known whether Crooks or the pilot, whose name has not been released, was speaking but the caller confirmed there were two people aboard the plane, The N&O reported.

“We were attempting to land, made contact with the ground, had a hard landing and decided to go around and at that point we lost the wheel,” one of the pilots said to air traffic control, according to a recording of the exchange.

During the call to air traffic control, the pilots requested an emergency landing at RDU. But when the plane arrived to RDU Runway 5R-23L and veered onto the grass at 2:50 p.m., only one pilot was in the plane.

Authorities received a report about the missing man around 2:30 or 2:45 p.m., Darshan Patel, operations manager for Wake County emergency management, said at a news briefing Friday evening.

The search took about four hours, ultimately ending with search crews finding Crooks dead in a Fuquay-Varina neighborhood around 7 p.m. Friday.

Who was involved in the plane exit and crash landing?

Charles Hew Crooks, a 23-year-old Raleigh man, has been identified as the co-pilot who exited the plane mid-flight. He was identified Friday by the Fuquay-Varina Police Department, according to a Facebook post by the department.

Crooks was a pilot and flight instructor, The N&O previously reported. He was a pilot for Rampart Aviation, which offers pilot and aircraft training commercially and for the Department of Defense. The aircraft carrying Crooks and the other pilot was registered to Spore LTD, a company managed by Rampart, The N&O reported.

The name of the pilot who survived the event and made the emergency landing at RDU has not been released, The N&O has reported. The pilot was taken to a Duke University hospital with minor injuries after the event.

Where did search crews find the exited pilot?

Crooks was found dead behind a house near Sunset Lake and Hilltop Needmore roads in the Sonoma Springs subdivision of Fuquay-Varina, 20 miles from the airport.

The plane carrying Crooks and the other pilot passed over Fuquay-Varina around 2:30 p.m., at about 3,850 feet, The N&O reported.

The search for Crooks took about four hours after the emergency landing at RDU and involved several municipal, county and federal agencies, The N&O previously reported.

Why did Crooks exit the plane mid-flight?

It remains unclear why Crooks exited the plane mid-flight. He is thought to have jumped or fallen out mid-flight, The N&O previously reported.

The recording of the plane’s exchange with air traffic control contains no mention of someone falling or jumping from the aircraft.

The surviving pilot told authorities that the co-pilot had jumped out before the landing, ABC11 reported.

What kind of plane was involved in the event?

The men were flying a CASA C-212 Aviocar, a twin-engine cargo plane made in Spain. The plane has a loading ramp at the rear that can be opened in flight, making it ideal for parachute training, The N&O previously reported.

The aircraft was registered to Spore LTD, a company managed by Rampart Aviation, which has contracts with the military to provide parachute training, tests and evaluation activities for U.S. Army airborne units and U.S. special operations forces, according to The Drive, which covers military aviation and other topics.

A recently uploaded photo of the aircraft shows a Rampart logo on the tail of the plane.

Crooks, the deceased co-pilot, was a pilot for Rampart.

Who is investigating the event?

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will lead an investigation into the incident with Fuquay-Varina Police Department’s help, the police department announced on Facebook Friday.

The NTSB told The N&O in an email statement that the board did not send an investigator to the scene of the incident, but it is “working with the FAA collecting information, evaluating the damage of the aircraft and circumstances to determine the extent of an NTSB investigation,” though no decision regarding that extent “has been made at this point.”

The NTSB said that it’s typical for the board not to send an investigator to the scene when “it is not known the severity of the damage of the aircraft and/or no fatalities as a direct result from the crash of an aircraft.”

“However, as in most cases, NTSB will work with the FAA who can document the scene and examine the aircraft on NTSB’s behalf,” the board told The N&O. “The findings from that examination and documentation will be given to the NTSB to determine to what extent an NTSB investigation will take place.”

It could be months before a report on the incident is released, The N&O previously reported.

News & Observer reporters Teddy Rosenbluth and Kristen Johnson and editor Jessica Banov contributed to this report.

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