NTSB: Co-pilot was "visibly upset" before he exited plane in mid-air

Photo from Hew Crooks via WNCN
·3 min read

A new preliminary report has offered some insight into what may have prompted a 23-year-old pilot to exit a damaged plane in mid-air before his co-pilot made an emergency landing in North Carolina last month.

On July 29, Charles Hew Crooks exited the small cargo plane, a CASA 212-200, while it was still airborne, about 30 miles south of Raleigh-Durham International Airport. He did not have a parachute, and his body was found in a backyard in the town of Fuquay-Varina. His co-pilot, and the only other person aboard the plane, was unhurt in the emergency landing. The two had been conducting a series of skydiving trips at the time.

Following the incident, questions lingered as to whether Crooks fell or jumped out of the plane. Two unnamed Federal Aviation Administration employees can be heard telling a 911 dispatcher that the plane was heading to the airport at the time.

On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report that contains information gathered about what took place during the flight. The report is not final and does not come to a definitive conclusion.

Crooks' unnamed co-pilot told NTSB investigators that they had conducted two skydiving runs that day – and had began to descend to Raeford West Airport to pick up a third group of skydivers – when the plane's right main landing gear was fractured after impact on the runway's surface.

The NTSB report described Crooks as the "second-in-command" on the plane, while the surviving pilot was the "pilot-in-command."

According to the report, Crooks' co-pilot instructed him to declare an emergency and request a diversion to Raleigh-Durham International Airport for landing. The pilot continued flying 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, the report said.

The pilot told NTSB that, 20 minutes into the the diversion to Raleigh-Durham, Crooks became "visibly upset" about the impending hard landing, and after his final communication to air traffic control, Crooks opened his side cockpit window and "may have gotten sick," the report read.

In his interview with NTSB investigators, the surviving pilot said he then took over radio communications as Crooks lowered the ramp in the back of the plane and indicated that he felt like he was going to be sick and needed air.

According to the surviving pilot, Crooks then "got up from his seat, removed his headset, apologized, and departed the airplane via the aft ramp door," the NTSB report said.

The pilot told NTSB there was a bar one could grab about six feet above the ramp. Crooks did not grab the bar before exiting the plane, the report said. After he departed the plane, the surviving pilot turned the plane to the right to search for Crooks and then informed air traffic control that Crooks had "departed the airplane without a parachute," before making an emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham, the report said.

An examination of the airplane revealed "substantial damage to the right main landing gear, landing gear fittings, and the airframe structure where the fittings attach."

The NTSB will release a more comprehensive final report on the incident at a later date. 

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