North Carolina copilot who exited a plane mid-air was ‘visibly upset’ and possibly ill before taking off without a parachute, NTSB says

Two people — a pilot in command and a second pilot in command — were initially on the July 29 flight, but only one person was on the plane when it landed, the Federal Aviation Administration said at the time. The body of Charles Hew Crooks, the 23-year-old second-in-charge, was discovered hours later in the backyard of a house in Fuquay-Varina, about 18 miles south of Raleigh, police said.

The aircraft, a twin-engine CASA CN-212 Aviocar, was used as a parachute jump, the NTSB report said. It had already flown two parachute jumps and was on its way to pick up a third group. As Crooks flew the plane on its descent to Raeford West Airport, the plane descended below the treeline and “descended” according to the report.

While attempting to make the aircraft climb again, the right main landing gear “collided” with the runway surface, causing a hard landing. The captain took control of Crooks, reached again more than 120 meters and ordered him to declare an emergency and request a diversion to Raleigh-Durham International Airport to land, the report said.

At the time, Crooks was responsible for communicating with air traffic control while the commander flew the aircraft. They hit turbulence as they approached the airport, and about 20 minutes into the flight, Crooks became “visibly upset” about the hard landing, the report said.

The commander said Crooks then opened his side cockpit window and “maybe got sick,” after which the commander took over radio communications, the report said. Crooks lowered the ramp at the back of the plane, indicating he “felt like he was going to get sick and need air,” the report said.

“The (pilot commander) stated that the (second commander) then got up from his seat, took off his headphones, apologized and exited the aircraft through the tailgate,” the report said.

The pilot said there was a beam that Crooks could have grabbed about five feet above the ramp, but he never saw Crooks grab it before leaving the plane. The pilot turned the plane over to look for Crooks and informed air traffic control of Crooks’ departure from the plane.

The pilot made an emergency landing at the airport. Upon investigation after the accident, the aircraft had significant damage to the landing gear elevators and airframe structure, the NTSB report said.

The plane has been kept for further investigation, the report said, and the incident is still under investigation.

CNN’s Tina Burnside and Paradise Afshar contributed to this report.

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