A very strange story is unfolding out of North Carolina — the copilot of a small aircraft exited his damaged plane without a parachute, minutes before the pilot safely landed the plane.
The copilot was Charles Hew Crooks. He was an experienced pilot and flight instructor.
The 23-year-old Bucknell University student’s body was recovered in the backyard of a home in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, some 30 miles south of the airport.
The damaged craft made an emergency landing at Raleigh Durham International Airport on Friday.
WRAL reports that the frantic 911 call, released Tuesday, presents two Federal Aviation Administration employees talking with Crooks’ copilot. During the emergency call, the copilot notes that Crooks leaped out of the damaged plane before it attempted an emergency landing.
An FAA air traffic controller is heard saying on the recording: “This is from Raleigh Airport. We have a pilot who was inbound to the field. His co-pilot jumped out of the aircraft.”
[He] “jumped out without the parachute, so he might have impact to the ground,” the air traffic controller added.
Later the air traffic controller notes: “He made impact to the ground and here are the coordinates.”
Noting concern for the copilot attempting to land the plane, an FAA employee said:
“I am sure the pilot is going to be shaken up. I have no idea. He literally just said, ‘My pilot just jumped out.'”
The 13-minute recording notes FAA employees desperately trying to figure out what happened to Crooks.
Five days after the incident, there are still more questions than answers.
Before the plane landed, an FAA controller told a dispatcher: “I guess at this point in time, all we can do is recovery. I don’t know. I don’t know. This is the craziest thing ever.”
WRAL reports that Wake County Emergency Management officials received the 911 call at 2:30 p.m. Friday. The aircraft, a CASA 212-200, made an emergency landing about 18 minutes later.
The name of the copilot who landed the plane has not yet been released. He was reportedly taken to a hospital for “minor injuries” and released the same day.
Crooks’ LinkedIn page notes that he lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and was employed as a pilot by Colorado-based Rampart Aviation.
Crooks’ profile notes that he was a certified flight instructor who had taught clients at the North Carolina-based FlightGest Academy.
Crooks’ father, Hew, was grief-stricken, telling WRAL, “We can’t process it right now. I don’t know.”
A friend of Crooks, Devin Lynch, is baffled by the story, telling WRAL:
“I’ve known Charles for three years. He was a pilot from the day I met him. I’ve flown with him a few times, and I can tell you firsthand what kind of pilot he was. He followed every rule to the letter.”
Many anxiously await a review of the cockpit voice recorder.
The National Transportation Safety Board is leading an investigation.
Scroll down to leave a comment and share your thoughts.