A pilot who fell to his death from a twin-engine plane in North Carolina last month appeared "visibly upset" and told his co-pilot that he felt sick and needed air after a midflight emergency, federal officials said Tuesday.
Charles Hew Crooks, 23, who was second-in-command on the CASA CN-212 Aviocar, then removed his headset, got up from his seat and apologized to the senior pilot before “exiting” via the plane’s aft ramp door, according to a preliminary report into the July 29 incident from the National Transportation Safety Board.
The pilot, who has not been identified, told investigators that Crooks did not appear to reach for a bar that was roughly six feet above the ramp before he fell, the report says.
Crooks was not wearing a parachute at the time.
Earlier, the pilots had been ferrying skydivers when their plane “dropped” and its landing gear struck a runway, the report says.
Crooks declared an emergency and coordinated with air traffic controllers at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, according to the report.
After roughly 20 minutes, Crooks became “visibly upset” about the hard landing and stopped communicating with air traffic controllers, the report says.
At roughly the same time, Crooks opened the side window in the cockpit and “may have gotten sick,” the commanding pilot told investigators, according to the report.
After falling from the plane, the commanding pilot alerted air traffic controllers and went searching for Crooks, the report says.
He landed the plane in a grassy area near the Raleigh airport around 2:40 p.m. Crooks’ body was found in a neighborhood in Fuquay-Varina, southwest of Raleigh, roughly five hours later after a resident heard a noise in their backyard.
Crooks’ father, Hew Crooks, told NBC affiliate WRAL of Raleigh, that his son was a certified flight instructor who had spent years working to become a pilot.
“He pursued his private pilot license while he was in college. I think he got that when he was a sophomore,” Crooks told the station. “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,” he added. “We’ll figure it out, I suppose.”