A 911 call made by air traffic controllers suggests that a co-pilot who died after he exited a plane during a mid-flight emergency last week may have jumped, a recording released 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. He did not have a parachute when he exited the twin-engine CASA CN-212 Aviocar, sparking questions about whether he had fallen or jumped.
The 13-minute recording of a 911 call made by two Federal Aviation Administration employees in the air traffic control tower at Raleigh–Durham International Airport may shine some light on the situation, with the workers suggesting the other pilot reported that 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 says before providing the coordinates of where the incident unfolded.
"So, they said he jumped out of the aircraft," the employee says. "His co-pilot jumped out without the parachute, so he might have impact to the ground.”
The dispatcher says at one point, "I guess at this point in time, all we can really do is kind of do a recovery."
A different FAA worker who takes over the call says: "Yeah, I know. Yeah, I mean, I don't know. 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,'" the employee says. The identities of the FAA workers have not been released.
There was no indication why Crooks may have jumped, and an investigation continues.
The pilot 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.
The plane landed on a grassy area at the airport at around 2:40 p.m., the FAA said.
In a video obtained by NBC affiliate WRAL of Raleigh, the plane appears to skid off the runway and spin in a partial circle before it comes to a stop.
There was substantial damage to the landing gear and the 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 nearby town of Fuquay-Varina after a resident flagged down an officer to report having heard a noise behind their property.
Crooks' father, Hew Crooks, told WRAL that his son spent years working toward 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,” 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.
“I can’t imagine what happened,” he said. “We’ll figure it out, I suppose.”
Crooks said that his son had been certified to fly in any conditions and that he had previously been a flight instructor.
His loss, his father said, has left an unfillable void in the family.
“We’re a strong family, and we’re a very loving family. But this, it leaves a hole,” he said.