A new preliminary report has offered insight into what may have prompted a 23-year-old pilot to exit a damaged plane in mid-flight before his co-pilot made a emergency landing in North Carolina last month.
On July 29, Charles Hew Crooks left the small cargo plane, a CASA 212-200, while still airborne, about 30 miles south of Raleigh-Durham International Airport. He had no parachute and his body was found in a courtyard in the town of Fuquay-Varina. His co-pilot, and the only other person on board the plane, was uninjured in the emergency landing. The two had taken a series of skydiving trips at the time.
After the incident, questions arose as to whether Crooks fell or jumped up out of the plane. Two unnamed Federal Aviation Administration employees can be heard telling a 911 dispatcher that the plane was heading for the airport at the time.
On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report containing information gathered about what happened during the flight. The report is not definitive and does not come to a definitive conclusion.
Crooks’ unnamed co-pilot told NTSB investigators they made two parachute jumps that day – and began descending at Raeford West Airport to pick up a third group of paratroopers – when the train The aircraft’s right main landing gear fractured after impact with the runway surface.
The NTSB report described Crooks as the aircraft’s “second-in-command”, while the surviving pilot was the “commander-in-command”.
According to the report, Crooks’ co-pilot asked him to declare an emergency and request a diversion to Raleigh-Durham International Airport for landing. The pilot continued to fly the plane while Crooks communicated with air traffic control as they prepared to land the CASA at Raleigh-Durham without the right main landing gear, according to the report.
The pilot told the NTSB that, 20 minutes after the diversion to Raleigh-Durham, Crooks had become “visibly upset” by the impending hard landing, and after his last communication with air traffic control, Crooks opened the window side of his cockpit and “may have gotten sick,” the report read.
In his interview with NTSB investigators, the surviving pilot said he then resumed radio communications as Crooks lowered the ramp at the rear of the aircraft and indicated that he felt he was going to be sick and needed air.
According to the surviving pilot, Crooks “then got up from his seat, removed his helmet, apologized, and exited the aircraft through the rear ramp door,” according to the NTSB report.
The pilot told the NTSB that there was a grab bar about six feet above the ramp. Crooks did not grab the tiller before exiting the plane, according to the report. After exiting the plane, the surviving pilot turned the plane to the right to search for Crooks, then informed air traffic control that Crooks had “left the plane without a parachute”, before making a landing. emergency in Raleigh-Durham, according to the report. .
An examination of the aircraft revealed “extensive damage to the right main landing gear, landing gear fittings and the airframe structure where the fittings attach”.
The NTSB will release a more complete final report on the incident at a later date.