When a small plane made an emergency landing at Raleigh Durham International Airport on Friday, only one of its two pilots were on board.
That’s because one of the pilots either jumped or fell to his death while the plane was trying to get to the ground safely after losing its right wheel, according to federal authorities probing the mystery.
Police are trying to piece together why Charles Hew Crooks, 23, was not in the cockpit when the plane hit the runway. His body was found in the backyard of a home about 30 miles south of the airport in the town of Fuquay-Varina. Crooks did not have a parachute on, and authorities believe his body fell about 3,500 feet. Authorities are also unsure if he died before the fall.
“I believe this was a first for many of us that were working this incident today,” Wake County Emergency Management chief of operations Darshan Patel said of the death, according to WRAL. Both the Federal Aviation Authority and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.
Crooks’ co-pilot, whose name has not been released, was taken to a hospital after sustaining minor injuries and released later that day. The plane, which could seat up to 10 people, was badly damaged.
The victim’s father, Hew Crooks, told local media he has no idea what happened to his late son.
“We can’t process it right now, I don’t know,” he said.
“He pursued his private pilot license while he was in college. I think he got that when he was a sophomore,” Hew Crooks said. “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,” the dad said. “We’ll figure it out, I suppose.”
Fuquay-Varina police chief Brandon Medina described the situation as “unique” and did not say if it is being treated like a criminal investigation.