Co-Pilot in Midair Mystery 'Apologized, Then Departed'

NTSB report says Charles Crooks was upset about incident that damaged landing gear
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 16, 2022 6:55 PM CDT
NTSB: Co-Pilot Who Left Plane Mid-Flight Was 'Visibly Upset '
Stock image of a CASA 212 with its rear door open.   (Getty Images/jphfigueiredo)

The co-pilot who apparently jumped to his death from a plane in North Carolina on July 29 was extremely upset about an incident that damaged the plane's landing gear, according to the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report. The NTSB says the pilot of the CASA 212 turboprop told investigators that Charles Hew Crooks was piloting the plane when it lost its right landing gear in a hard landing at Raeford West Airport, where they were supposed to pick up a group of skydivers, the News & Observer reports. The pilot said he retook control and got the plane back in the air.

The pilot told the NTSB that Crooks spoke to air traffic controllers about an emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, but the 23-year-old became "visibly upset" during the diversion, opened his side cockpit window, and "may have gotten sick," the AP reports. The pilot said Crooks then opened the ramp at the rear of the plane, indicating he needed air. Crooks then "got up from his seat, removed his headset, apologized, and departed the airplane via the aft ramp door," the pilot said. According to a recording of a 911 call, the pilot told FAA workers, "My pilot just jumped out."

The pilot was hospitalized with minor injuries after an emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham. According to the NTSB report, investigators found "substantial damage" to the plane's landing gear. Crooks, who did not have a parachute, was found dead in the backyard of a home around 30 miles from the airport. According to his obituary, he had a lifelong passion for aviation and got his "dream job" as a first officer with Rampart Aviation in April this year, per the News & Observer. (More plane accident stories.)

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