The father of a pilot who died after mysteriously exiting a plane mid-air in North Carolina has spoken out, sharing his disbelief after the death of his 23-year-old son.
Co-pilot Charles Hew Crooks, from Raleigh, North Carolina, died on Friday after exiting the plane which made an emergency landing not long after.
His father, Hew Crooks, told location TV station WRAL that his son started working towards getting his private pilot license while he was still in college and that he had been working as a flight instructor for more than a year.
“He pursued his private pilot license while he was in college. I think he got that when he was a sophomore”, he said, before adding: “He said a couple weeks ago, he wouldn’t trade places with anybody in the world. He loved where he was.”
“We can’t process it right now”, he told WRAL. “I don’t know. I can’t imagine what happened... We’re a strong family and we’re a very loving family. But this, it leaves a hole.”
The father said that his son had been certified to fly in any kind of weather.
An investigation is still taking place, but officials from Wake County Emergency Management have announced that they think that the 23-year-old jumped or fell from the aircraft.
The plane, a twin-engined cargo aircraft, emergency landed at Raleigh–Durham International Airport (RDU) at 2.40pm, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
An RDU spokesperson told WRAL that two individuals were in the plane when it took off but only one person was left when it came in for landing. The surviving pilot’s identity hasn’t been made public.
According to the local TV station, the pilot had said before landing that there were issues with the landing gear.
The body of the co-pilot was found in a backyard in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, about 30 miles (48km) south of RDU.
A family, which hasn’t been identified, told WRAL that they heard a loud thud coming from their backyard but that at the time, they didn’t spot anything. Police later arrived and found the body amidst the trees in the backyard. The co-pilot wasn’t wearing a parachute and it remains unclear why he exited the aircraft.
The pilot remaining on the CASA CN-212 Aviocar plane was taken to hospital after sustaining minor injuries.
On Friday, Fuquay-Varina police said on Facebook: “Earlier today, surrounding law enforcement and fire service agencies responded to the Sonoma Springs Subdivision with the objective of locating the co-pilot that had exited a plane while in mid-flight.”
The police then responded to information provided by a Captain Cove resident.
“After further investigation, we were able to positively identify the co-pilot. With the assistance of City-County Bureau of Identification, we were able to identify the co-pilot’s next of kin. The father of the co-pilot located in Fairfield, Connecticut, was notified of the incident”, police added.
The authorities are not certain of the plane’s altitude when Mr Crooks exited. Though, a map of the plane’s flight path from flight-tracking service ADS-B Exchange suggested that the plane was at about 3,800 feet, said Darshan Patel, operations manager for Wake County emergency management, at a news briefing.
According to audio recordings obtained by WRAL from the plane, a pilot can be heard asking air traffic control for help.
“Emergency, we’ve lost our right wheel”, said the pilot in the recording. “We’d like to speak to Raleigh and make an emergency landing at Raleigh.”
Videos obtained by the news outlet show the plane skid off the runway, where it spins in a partial circle before coming to a stop. The video also shows ambulances waiting at the site.
The incident is being probed by the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board.
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