Charles Hew Crooks, the 23-year-old pilot who reportedly jumped to his death from a damaged plane on July 29, was so upset with a mishap earlier in the flight that he opened a cockpit window and may have become sick, the pilot of the craft told investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB released its preliminary report on the incident Tuesday. It describes information the NTSB has gathered but does not draw any conclusions.
Crooks’ mysterious death on July 29 has captured national attention as federal officials investigate the emergency landing of the plane he exited mid-flight.
According to the report, the CASA 212 that Crooks was copiloting had conducted two skydiving runs and was returning to Raeford West Airport to pick up a third group when it lost its right main landing gear during a hard landing.
The pilot told the NTSB that Crooks was piloting the plane at the time, but that the pilot retook control and got the plane back into the air. The pilot then directed Crooks to declare an emergency and request a diversion to Raleigh-Durham International Airport for landing.
The pilot is not named.
The pilot continued to fly the plane while Crooks communicated with air traffic controllers as they prepared to land at RDU with the right landing gear missing, the pilot told the NTSB.
About 20 minutes into the diversion, after they talked through the approach to RDU, Crooks became “visibly upset” about the hard landing in Raeford, according to the pilot. Crooks opened the side cockpit window and “may have gotten sick,” the pilot said, according to the report.
The pilot told the NTSB that Crooks then lowered the ramp in the back of the airplane, indicating that he felt like he was going to be sick and needed air. The pilot said he took over radio communication as Crooks “got up from his seat, removed his headset, apologized, and departed the airplane via the aft ramp door.”
The report noted that there was a hand bar within reach of the ramp. However, the pilot did not see Crooks reach for this bar during his departure, according to the report.
According to audio recordings of 911 calls and radio traffic, the pilot said Crooks had “jumped” out of the plane without a parachute. The surviving pilot reported potential coordinates of Crooks’ location before landing at RDU, according to 911 recordings from the Cary Police Department.
According to the NTSB report, the pilot did not indicate to RDU air traffic control that Crooks had become ill or upset before he “departed” the plane.
When the plane made an emergency landing at 2:50 p.m. at RDU, the pilot was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
An examination of the plane revealed “substantial damage” to the “landing gear, landing gear fittings and the airframe structure where the fittings attach,” according to the report.
The NTSB report noted it did not travel to the scene of the accident to compile its findings.
The incident launched a massive search from numerous law enforcement agencies stretching from Cary to the southern part of Wake County with drones and a helicopter.
Crooks was found dead at 7 p.m., behind a house near Sunset Lake and Hilltop Needmore roads in the Sonoma Springs subdivision of Fuquay-Varina.
A passion for flying
Crooks had an “overriding passion” for aviation, “practically from birth,” according to his obituary. He read flight books at a young age and started taking flying lessons near his home in Connecticut.
After becoming a professional pilot, he qualified as a commercial pilot and certified flight instructor. In May 2021, he got a job as a flight instructor at FlightGest Academy at RDU. Crooks accepted his “dream job” as a first officer with Rampart Aviation in April 2022, according to his obituary.
The plane Crooks and the pilot flew was registered to Spore LTD, a company managed by Rampart.
Crooks’ family has asked that people focus on “his love of life and flying,” rather than his death. Crooks loved his life in North Carolina, and according to his obituary, told his parents “that he was exactly where he wanted to be doing exactly what he wanted to do.”
“Avoid speculation on his final moments, which are so much less important than the nearly 24 years of joy and wonder that he brought to everyone he met,” Crawford Crooks, the pilot’s brother, said in a Facebook message to The N&O.
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This story was originally published August 16, 2022 3:18 PM.
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