On Friday afternoon, a plane carrying two people, both licensed pilots, called air traffic control with an emergency: The right wheel of their turboprop plane had fallen off while attempting to land near a private airport at Raeford around 2pm.
“We were trying to land, made contact with the ground, had a hard landing and decided to go around and at that point we lost the wheel,” said one of the men at the control of air traffic, according to a registration of the exchange.
They were requesting an emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. But when the plane arrived in Raleigh at 2:50 p.m., only one pilot was on the plane.
The other, who allegedly jumped or fell mid-air, was found dead behind a house in Fuquay-Varina, 20 miles from the airport, about four hours later.
Details of what the plane was doing and why Charles Hew Crooks, a 23-year-old pilot and flight instructor, got out of the plane without a parachute are still unclear.
The News & Observer reviewed FAA recordings of the plane, a map of the plane’s flight path with timestamps and altitudes, and a 40-minute recording of the conversation between the pilot and a controller. air traffic. Here’s what we learned.
The hours before
The flight originally took off around 1:10 p.m. from Raeford, according to flight tracking software.
The men were flying a CASA C-212 Aviocar, a twin-engine cargo plane Made in Spain. The aircraft has a rear loading ramp that can be opened in flight, making it ideal for parachute training. A U.S. Army photo of the plane shows it in the air with a paratrooper jumping out the back door during a training exercise at Fort Bragg in 2018.
The aircraft was registered at Spore LTDa company run by Rampart Aviation, which provides pilot and aircraft training for commercial purposes and for the Department of Defense.
According to The Drive, which covers military aviation and other topics.
Crooks, the man found dead by the police, was a pilot for Rampart.
Mindy Fulton, listed as an agent of Spore Ltd. and Rampart’s human resources director on Linkedin, declined to comment when contacted by the N&O on Saturday.
At around 1.30pm the plane began to circle Raeford West Airport and suffered a “hard landing”. A spokesperson for the private airport said the plane was not using their runway, but rather a nearby military dirt runway.
Shortly after this aborted landing, the aircraft – using call sign Shady 02 – called Fayetteville Air Traffic Control for assistance in rerouting to RDU. It’s unclear if Crooks or the unnamed pilot was speaking, but the caller confirmed there were two people on the plane.
“How do you plan to land in Raleigh-Durham? asked the air traffic controller.
“Guess we’ll put him on his stomach,” the caller replied.
The recording of this interaction contains no mention of anyone falling or jumping from the plane.
The plane passed over Fuquay-Varina, where Crooks’ body was found, around 2:30 p.m., at about 3,850 feet.
Twenty minutes later, the plane landed on RDU 5R-23L runway and turned onto the grass, according to the airport.
The pilot told authorities the co-pilot jumped out before landing, ABC-11 reported.
Authorities received a report of the missing man around 2:30 or 2:45 p.m., Darshan Patel, operations manager for Wake County Emergency Management, said at a news conference Friday evening. The search lasted another four hours.
Several trips that day
The plane had made several trips earlier in the day, including flights near or at Rocky-Mount Wilson Regional Airport and Laurinburg Maxton Airport.
Patel and Fuquay-Varina police say Crooks was found after a resident of the Sonoma Springs subdivision reported search parties already in the neighborhood.
The pilot, the only passenger on the plane when it reached the ground, was taken to Duke University Hospital with minor injuries, an airport spokesperson said.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the incident with the assistance of the Fuquay-Varina Police Department, the police department announced Friday on Facebook.
It could be months before their report is published.
This story was originally published July 30, 2022 5:24 p.m.