Man told RDU tower his co-pilot ‘jumped out’ of plane before emergency landing

(AP Newsroom)
Published: Aug. 2, 2022 at 6:58 PM EDT
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(WRAL) - Two Federal Aviation Administration employees in the Raleigh-Durham International Airport Tower told the Raleigh-Wake County 911 dispatcher that the surviving pilot reported his co-pilot jumped out of a plane last week before making an emergency landing.

WRAL reports that the body of Charles Hew Crooks, 23, was found the evening of July 29 in a Fuquay-Varina backyard, hours after the plane landed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Crooks was one of two pilots on the CASA 212-200 airplane.

“This is from Raleigh Airport,” an FAA employee said in a recording obtained Tuesday by WRAL News. “We have a pilot who was inbound to the field. His co-pilot jumped out of the aircraft. He made impact to the ground and here are the coordinates.”

The recording, a communication between those at the airport and 911 dispatchers, lasts about 13 minutes.

“He said he jumped out of the aircraft,” an FAA employee said. “His co-pilot jumped out without the parachute so he might have impact to the ground.”

Wake County Emergency Management Chief of Operations Darshan Patel said the initial 911 call came in around 2:30 p.m. Friday, July 29 from RDU. Patel said the call is what prompted the search for Crooks. Flight logs show the emergency landing happened at 2:48 p.m.

The FAA employees tried to discern what happened.

“I am sure the pilot is going to be shaken up,” an FAA employee said. “I have no idea.

“He literally just said, ‘My pilot just jumped out.’”

Crooks didn’t have a harness or parachute.

Patel told WRAL News, “Once the aircraft had landed, it was reconfirmed based on a report the pilot said the second person in the aircraft had exited the aircraft prior to landing.”

“I guess at this point in time, all we can do is a recovery,” an FAA employee said. “I know. I don’t know. This is the craziest thing ever.”

The National Transportation Safety Board announced Tuesday it is taking over the investigation into Crooks’ death.

The news comes a day after the Federal Aviation Administration said it would lead the investigation.

The RDU Police Department said it had interviewed the surviving pilot, whose name was not made public. RDU police have not released the incident report, citing the ongoing investigation. Airport police turned over the interview to the FAA and NTSB.

Preliminary information indicates that the airplane sustained substantial damage to the landing gear and fuselage, according to the NTSB.

The NTSB will determine the scope of its investigation after more information is gathered. The board is not conducting any interviews as of Tuesday.

WRAL News has also requested interviews with the FAA and RDU Police.

Patel said 80-plus people were involved in the search for Crooks.

“At the beginning, it was quite a large search area, and we wanted to make sure we using our resources effectively but also efficiently to do what we could for this individual,” Patel said.

Several law enforcement entities were involved in the search for Crooks, including Wake County Emergency Management, the town of Cary, the town of Holly Springs, the town of Fuquay-Varina and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.

‘It was kind of an all hands on deck for the folks who were in that area,” Patel said.

Authorities discovered Crooks’ body around 7 p.m. Friday, July 29 in the backyard of a Fuquay-Varina home. A neighbor who heard a noise flagged down officers in the area. Officers found Crooks with no signs of a harness or parachute.

WRAL News is working to determine what the two pilots’ mission was on July 29. Both pilots were working at the time for Rampart Aviation. The company has not responded to WRAL News’ multiple requests for comment.

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