'Maybe he fell': Questions remain on how NC co-pilot exited mid-flight

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Sunday, July 31, 2022
Questions remain on how NC co-pilot exited mid-flight
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A plane carrying two people on board made an emergency landing Friday in Raleigh after trying to land near Raeford.

FUQUAY-VARINA, N.C. (WTVD) -- A plane carrying two people on board made an emergency landing in Raleigh Friday after trying to land near Raeford.

The exchange between them and air traffic control is heard in a 40-minute recording.

"Emergency, we've lost our right wheel, we'd like to proceed to Raleigh and make a landing at Raleigh," one pilot said. "We were attempting to land, we made contact with the ground, had a hard landing, and decided to go around, and at that point we lost the wheel."

The CASA C-212 Aviocar, made in Spain, took off from Raeford and landed on Runway 5R-23L at Raleigh-Durham International Airport at around 2:40 p.m. with only one pilot on board.

"How do you intend to land at Raleigh-Durham?" air traffic control asked. "Get as slow as we can ... I guess we're going to put it on the belly," the caller said.

The pilot on board was taken to Duke Hospital with minor injuries and has since been released from the hospital.

The body of co-pilot Charles Hew Crooks, 23, was found 20 miles away from the airport in a Fuquay-Varina neighborhood.

The C-212 has been popular among skydivers and smokejumpers, but Crooks was found without any parachute or landing gear nearby.

The sound of a crash was heard by several residents, including one eyewitness who realized it was in his backyard.

"I thought honestly it was somebody who was slamming their trash can lid or something cause it was pretty loud," the eyewitness said.

Several agencies assisted in the massive search before it ended Friday evening. The National Transportation Safety Board is in charge of the investigation, but questions remain on how Crooks exited mid-flight.

"Maybe he fell, or jumped, I don't know," the eyewitness said. "But I was feeling remorseful for his family."

Another resident who lives two doors down called it a "surreal," experience.

"I guess I don't know if we'll ever really know, but it's just crazy" Matt Stone said. "If he jumped a second earlier, he could've been right here in my kid's playset. Just a million things, and the sadness about it, of it being a 23-year-old guy who probably woke up that day, had breakfast, ready to go fly a plane."

Runway 5R-23L at RDU was reopened on Saturday and the airport returned to normal operations.