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Co-Pilot Who Exited Cargo Plane Intentionally Jumped

Putting two plus two together from the NTSB preliminary report, it wasn’t a random act. Here’s what seems to have happened.

Co Pilot Jumps Out of Plane
A CASA C-212 Aerocar similar to the one involved in the accident. Photo by John Wheatly

The NTSB has issued the preliminary report on the circumstances that surrounded the inflight emergency of a CASA 212 aircraft with the co-pilot (second-in-command, SIC,) who jumped out of the lowered rear ramp of the airplane while in flight on July 29. As a result, the body of co-pilot Charles Hew Crooks was found deceased approximately 30 miles south of the Raleigh-Durham International Airport in Fuqua-Varina North Carolina apparently from an intentional departure from the aircraft.

Based on NTSB interviews with the publicly unidentified surviving pilot, Crooks was the pilot flying who attempted what turned to be a failed landing at Raeford West Airport (NR20), which resulted in an uncontrolled rapid descent causing the aircraft to land hard on the runway. Even though both pilots called for a “go around” prior to ground contact, their actions were too late to prevent damaging the right main landing gear, with the gear departing the aircraft while climbing out from the failed approach.

The PIC resumed control of the aircraft once they were in a positive rate of climb at 400 feet. Since the landing gear on the CASA 212 cannot be visually inspected from the cockpit, the pilot in command conducted a low pass over the airport so that ground personnel could visually confirm the condition of the landing gear. The pilot was notified that the broken landing gear was found on the runway.

With confirmation of the damaged landing gear, the PIC made the decision to have SIC Crooks declare an emergency with a request to divert to Raleigh Durham International Airport. According to the PIC, there were no indications at that point that anything was unusual in the behavior of Crooks.

Charles Crooks
The pilot who fell or jumped to his death, Charles Crooks, from his LinkedIn page.

With ATC confirming typical aspects of the emergency, including souls on board, one of the pilots confirmed that there were two on board, with approximately four hours of fuel remaining.

During the investigation interviews, the PIC stated that about 20 minutes after the hard landing, the SIC started to show signs of being very upset with the situation. He seemed to be even more upset after the PIC conducted the approach and emergency briefings, pending their planned emergency landing at Raleigh Durham.

Additional information developed during the NTSB interview with the PIC indicated that he thought Crooks opened the side cockpit window and “may have gotten sick”. At that point the PIC took over control of the radio communications, as well. SIC Crooks made a statement to the PIC that essentially said he was going to be sick and needed fresh air. He proceeded at that point to lower the ramp at the rear of the aircraft. According to the NTSB report it states that the SIC “got up from his seat, removed his headset, apologized, and departed the airplane via the aft ramp door.”

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The PIC stated that he turned the airplane to the right to search for the SIC. He then notified ATC that his co-pilot had departed the airplane without a parachute.

Subsequently the PIC proceeded on course to Raleigh Durham where he requested and received permission to conduct a low approach to verify the condition of his landing gear by personnel on the ground. The PIC made an emergency landing with the aircraft coming to rest upright on the right side of the runway. It was reported that the PIC sustained minor injuries as a result of the emergency landing.

As is the case in most NTSB investigations, multiple NTSB specialist investigators, including those specializing in human performance, will look at multiple aspects of the flight, likely concentrating on Crooks’ behavior and mental acuity in the days leading up to the accident. They will also likely concentrate on what developed during the botched landing approach at Raeford West Airport, which was the precursor and might have been the initial link to the accident sequence resulting in the suicide death of co-pilot Crooks.

Plane & Pilot will continue to monitor developments on this story as they unfold.

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