Editor’s Note: Our readers responded strongly to this story when it originally ran; we’re reposting it here in case you missed it.
A North Carolina man was found dead July 29 after he dropped more than 3,000 feet from a plane he was co-piloting that would later make a crash landing at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport with the pilot at the controls.
The body of Charles Hew Crooks, 23, was found about 30 miles from the airport, according to WRAL-TV.
The landing took place about 2:40 p.m., according to WTVD-TV.
The second pilot suffered minor injuries in the emergency landing, the station reported.
A plane carrying two people on board made an emergency landing Friday in Raleigh after trying to land near Raeford. https://t.co/NvfRCYvuqj
— ABC11 EyewitnessNews (@ABC11_WTVD) July 31, 2022
Details about exactly what led up to the emergency were difficult to piece together from reports. The plane originally took off with the pilot and co-pilot aboard from Rocky Mount/Wilson Airport near Rocky Mount, North Carolina, at 11:52 a.m., according to WNCN-TV. It apparently lost a right wheel while making a touch-down about 12:30 p.m. in Raeford, North Carolina.
“Emergency, we’ve lost our right wheel, we’d like to proceed to Raleigh and make a landing at Raleigh,” one of the pilots told air traffic controllers, according to WNCN.
“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 plane then headed to Raleigh at about 1:10 p.m. according to WNCN.
After the emergency landing at Raleigh, where there was only one pilot aboard, officials began to hunt for Crooks, who had been the only other person aboard the plane.
“The pilot told authorities that a passenger aboard exited the plane before the landing attempt,” WTVD reported.
First on @WRAL: we spoke with the father of the 23-year-old copilot who died before an emergency plane landing at RDU.
The dad of Charles Hew Crooks says his son was an experienced flyer who was living his dream, and they’re struggling to understand this sudden loss. pic.twitter.com/SasF8Buw98
— Keenan Willard (@KeenanWRAL) July 31, 2022
Wake County Emergency Management chief of operations Darshan Patel said residents near Fuquay-Arina told searchers they “heard something in their backyard,” according to Fox News.
Crooks, who had been a flight instructor at Raleigh-Durham, was not wearing a parachute.
Fuquay-Varina Police Chief Brandon Medina said Crooks’ body fell at least 3,500 feet. He said it was unclear what happened aboard the plane. Medina called the incident “unique.”
“I believe this was a first for many of us that were working this incident today,” Patel said.
Hew Crooks, the victim’s father, said he did not know what had taken place in the air.
“I don’t know,” Hew Crooks said, according to WRAL-TV. “We can’t process it right now, I don’t know.”
His son “pursued his private pilot license while he was in college. I think he got that when he was a sophomore,” Hew Crooks said. “He said a couple weeks ago, he wouldn’t trade places with anybody in the world. He loved where he was.”
“I can’t imagine what happened,” Hew Crooks said. “We’ll figure it out, I suppose.”
Man jumps out of plane without parachute and dies before emergency landing at NC airport: officials https://t.co/PkcAHISD31
— NEWS MAKER (@NEWS_MAKER) July 30, 2022
The plane spun as it landed.
“I saw a whole crowd of people looking out the window at the jet bridge, and then saw that propeller plane on the grass beyond the runway and a couple of emergency vehicles,” witness Simon Palmore said.
The incident is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.
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