Mystery Surrounds Co-Pilot’s Mid-Flight Exit from Plane During Emergency Landing at Raleigh-Durham
On Friday, July 29, 2022, a small plane carrying two licensed pilots took off from a private airport in Raeford, North Carolina. That plane would experience a controlled crash landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport about 90 minutes later with only one pilot onboard.
According to Flight Aware, N497CA is a CASA C-212 Aviocar which departed from Raeford (Hoke County) at 1:10 p.m. and is registered to Spore LTD LLC from Colorado Springs, Colorado a company managed by Rampart Aviation. Rampart provides aviation support, training, and repairs and modification services to both government and commercial clients.
Raeford is approximately 20 miles WSW of Fayetteville, and the main gate at Fort Bragg, and roughly 90 miles south of the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
Around 1:20 p.m., co-pilots reported to Fayetteville ATC that they had experienced a “hard landing” attempt, sustained damage to the right main landing gear, and requested vectoring to Raleigh-Durham for an emergency landing. They then contacted RDU-ATC requesting the emergency landing. During this communication, the pilots indicated the plane had lost its right wheel altogether.
Between 2:30 and 2:45 p.m. local 911 centers and law enforcement began receiving calls from the Fuquay Varina suburb of Raleigh about a man exiting a small plane in-flight with no parachute. Fuquay-Varina is situated approximately 30 miles southeast of the RDU runways. A flight tracking database was consulted to map the aircraft’s flight path and altitude at the time of the reported sightings. Based on all available information, it’s estimated the plane had an altitude of 3800-3900 ft as it passed over Fuquay-Varina and its many residential neighborhoods. Local and state first responders began an intensive search effort by land and air.
Meanwhile, the aircraft made its approach to RDU and touched down on RDU’s 5R-23L at 2:49 p.m. with emergency equipment in position. Video of the landing shows the turboprop veering into the grass between RDU’s runways. The surviving pilot was the sole occupant of the aircraft when first responders opened the door. He was transported to Duke University Medical Center where he was treated for minor injuries sustained during the landing and released later in the evening. (As of this posting, Wednesday, August 3, 2022 - the surviving co-pilot remains unidentified).
As searchers combed the area by foot, one resident reached out to say she had heard something wooded area behind her back yard. Search crews would later find trees damaged in that area and recovered the body of 23-yo co-pilot Charles Hew Crooks of Raleigh.
Crooks is described by family and friends as having aviation in his blood from a very early age. He was living his dream as a pilot. His father stated that his son recently told him “I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.”
NTSB is leading the accident investigation. On Tuesday, August 2, WRAL News in Raleigh reported that two FAA Air Traffic Controllers told the Raleigh/Wake County 911 dispatcher that the surviving pilot told them his co-pilot jumped from the plane. In a 13-minute recording between FAA employees and the 911 call center, more precise details emerge on the location of the aircraft when Crooks exited. "This is from Raleigh Airport. 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.”
Man told RDU tower his co-pilot ‘jumped out’ of plane before emergency landing : WRAL.com
The conversation continues as the FAA employees try to make sense of what they’ve heard from the aircraft: “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.”
“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.’”
This post is sourced from multiple local and national media reports: