On July 29th, a CASA C-212-200 airplane made a rough emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) after a failed landing attempt at nearby Raeford West Airport (NR20).
On the plane at the time it landed was the pilot in command (PIC). Not on the plane was the second in command (SIC), 23-year-old Charles Hew Crooks, who early news reports described as either “falling” or “jumping” out of the plane without a parachute sometime after it was diverted to RDU after the initial botched landing at NR20 was said to have damaged the plane’s landing gear.
According to the two Raleigh tower air traffic controllers who called 911 at the time, the pilot who eventually landed the plane told them en route to RDU that his copilot had jumped out:
“This is from Raleigh Airport. We have a pilot that was inbound to the field. His co-pilot jumped out of the aircraft,” an FAA employee says before providing the coordinates of where the incident unfolded.
“So, they said he jumped out of the aircraft,” the employee says. “His co-pilot jumped out without the parachute, so he might have impact to the ground.”
A different FAA worker who takes over the call says: “Yeah, I know. Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. This is the craziest thing I’ve ever dealt with.
“I mean, I’m sure this pilot is going to be shaken up. I have no idea. He literally just said, ‘My pilot just jumped out,’” the employee says. The identities of the FAA workers have not been released.
On Tuesdsay, the NTSB released their preliminary report (PDF version) which relied heavily on information that was supplied by the pilot and various recorded communications.
According to the report, the unidentified pilot said that 20 minutes into the flight to RDU, Crooks “became visibly upset about the hard landing” at NR20. Here’s what else the NTSB report noted:
While enroute to RDU, the crew coordinated with air traffic control, operations, and their customer, and planned their approach and landing at RDU, with the SIC responsible for communicating with air traffic control while the PIC flew the airplane. The PIC reported that there was moderate turbulence during the flight, and that about 20 minutes into the diversion to RDU, after conducting approach and emergency briefings, the SIC became visibly upset about the hard landing. Review of preliminary air traffic control radio communication information from the Federal Aviation Administration indicated that the SIC had been communicating with air traffic control up to that point in the flight.
In his final transmission, the SIC acknowledged a course heading from air traffic control. The PIC described that about this time the SIC opened his side cockpit window, and “may have gotten sick.” The PIC took over radio communications, and the SIC lowered the ramp in the back of the airplane, indicating that felt like he was going to be sick and needed air. The PIC stated that the SIC then got up from his seat, removed his headset, apologized, and departed the airplane via the aft ramp door.
The PIC stated that there was a bar one could grab about 6 ft above the ramp; however, he did not witness the SIC grab the bar before exiting the airplane. The PIC then turned the airplane to the right to search for the SIC. In a radio transmission to air traffic control about 1 ½ minutes after the SIC’s radio acknowledgement of the course heading, the PIC notified air traffic control that his copilot had departed the airplane without a parachute.
So did he jump or did he fall – or did something else happen? The preliminary report, which notes it is subject to change, doesn’t draw any conclusions.
But from what his family and friends have said about Crooks, it just doesn’t make sense that he would have committed suicide over a bad landing for which he blamed himself, even as dedicated a pilot as those close to him said he was.
Devin Lynch, who was friends with Crooks for three years, told WRAL a few days after the incident that he very much wanted to hear what was on the cockpit voice recorder between the two pilots outside of what was communicated to the ATC:
“I would be interested in hearing the CVR recording because I’d like to hear hear what was going on in the cockpit that wasn’t being communicated to air traffic control,” said Lynch.
Lynch said from the few years he’s known Crooks, it feels out of character for him to jump from a plane without a parachute.
“I’ve known Charles for three years. He was a pilot from the day I met him. I’ve flown with him a few times, and I can tell you firsthand what kind of pilot he was. He followed every rule to the letter,” he said.
I’d like to hear it, too, especially considering according to the NTSB report there was about a minute and a half between the last communication between Crooks and the tower and when the PIC alerted them that Crooks had allegedly jumped.
I mean, Crooks had already opened his window according to the PIC, which obviously would let air in so why would he open up the plane’s ramp just to get fresh air? Is that even something pilots are allowed to do during the course of a flight? Not trying to push any conspiracy theories here, but a lot of this just doesn’t make sense.