A 911 call made by air traffic controllers suggests that a co-pilot who died after exiting a plane during a mid-flight emergency last week may have jumped, a recording released on Tuesday showed.
The body of Charles Hew Crooks, 23, was recovered last weekend after he plunged from the plane near Raleigh, North Carolina, on Friday afternoon. The pilot did not have a parachute when he exited the twin-engine CASA CN-212 Aviocar, sparking questions around whether he had fallen from the plane or jumped.
The 13-minute recording of a 911 call made by two Federal Aviation Administration employees in the RDU air traffic control tower during the incident may shine some light on the situation, with the workers suggesting the other pilot on the plane reported Crooks had jumped.
“This is from Raleigh Airport. We have a pilot that was inbound to the field. His co-pilot jumped out of the aircraft,” an FAA employee can be heard saying before providing the coordinates of where the incident unfolded.
“So, they said he jumped out of the aircraft,” they say. “His copilot jumped out without the parachute so he might have impact to the ground.”
“I guess at this point in time, all we can really do is kind of do a recovery,” the dispatcher says at one point.
“Yeah, I know. Yeah, I mean, I don’t know,” a different FAA worker who takes over the call responds. “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever dealt with.”
“I mean, I’m sure this pilot is going to be shaken up. I have no idea. He literally just said, ‘my pilot just jumped out’,” they say. The identities of the FAA workers have not been released.
There was no indication as to why Crooks may have jumped and an investigation into exactly what happened remains ongoing.
The pilot of the plane had told air traffic control that there was an issue with the landing gear and he had asked to make an emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
They were able to land the plane on a grassy area at the airport, at around 2:40 pm, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
In a video obtained by NBC affiliate WRAL of Raleigh, the plane can be seen appearing to skid off the runway and spin in a partial circle before coming to a stop.
The plane sustained substantial damage to its landing gear and fuselage, preliminary information gathered by the National Transportation Safety Board showed, according to The Associated Press.
A number of agencies assisted in searching for Crooks. His body was recovered in the Fuquay-Varina neighborhood after a resident flagged down an officer, saying they had heard a noise behind their property.
Crooks’ father, Hew Crooks, told WRAL that his son had spent years working towards his dream of becoming a pilot.
“He 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.”
He said his family had been left devastated and questioning what exactly happened to their son that day.
“I can’t imagine what happened,” he said. “We’ll figure it out, I suppose.”
Hew Crooks said his son had been certified to fly in any condition and had previously been a flight instructor.
His loss, the father said, has left an irreparable void in the family.
“We’re a strong family and we’re a very loving family. But this, it leaves a hole,” he said.