Plane failed to land in Raeford before man exited mid-flight

On Friday afternoon, a plane carrying two people, both licensed pilots, called air traffic control with an emergency: The right wheel of their turboprop plane had fallen off during an attempted landing near a private airport in Raeford sometime around 2 pm

“We were attempting to land, made contact with the ground, had a hard landing and decided to go around and at that point we lost the wheel,” one of the men said to air traffic control, according to a recording of the exchange.

They were requesting an emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. But when the plane arrived in Raleigh at 2:50 pm, only one pilot was in the plane.

The other, who is thought to have jumped or fallen out mid-flight, was found dead behind a house in Fuquay-Varina, 20 miles from the airport, about four hours later.

The details of what the plane was doing and why Charles Hew Crooks, a 23-year-old pilot and flight instructor, exited the plane without a parachute is still unclear.

The News & Observer reviewed FAA records about the plane, a map of the plane’s flight path with time stamps and altitudes, and a 40-minute recording of the conversation between the pilot and an air traffic controller.

The hours before

The flight initially took off around 1:10 pm from Raeford, according to flight-tracking software.

The men were flying a CASA C-212 Aviocar, a twin-engine cargo plane made in Spain. The plane has a loading ramp at the rear that can be opened in flight, making it ideal for parachute training. A US Army photo of the The plane shows it in air with a paratrooper jumping out the back door during a training exercise at Fort Bragg in 2018.

The aircraft was registered to Spore LTD, a company managed by Rampart Aviation, which offers pilot and aircraft training commercially and for the Department of Defense.

Rampart has contracts with the military to provide parachute training, tests and evaluation activities for US Army airborne units and US special operations forces, according to The Drive, which covers military aviation and other topics.

Crooks, the man police found dead, was a pilot for Rampart.

Mindy Fulton, listed as Spore Ltd.’s company agent and the director of human resources for Rampart on Linkedin, declined to comment when contacted by the N&O Saturday.

Around 1:30 pm the plane began circling Raeford West Airport and experienced a “hard landing.” A spokesperson for the privately owned airport said the plane did not use their runway, but rather a dirt military runway nearby.

Sometime shortly after that aborted landing, the plane — using the call sign Shady 02 — called Fayetteville Air Traffic Control for help rerouting to RDU. It’s not known whether Crooks or the pilot, whose name has not been released, was speaking but the caller confirmed there were two people aboard the plane.

“How do you intend to land at Raleigh-Durham?” the air controller asked.

“I guess we’re going to put it on the belly,” the caller responded.

The recording of this interaction contains no mention of someone falling or jumping from the aircraft.

The aircraft passed over Fuquay-Varina, where Crooks body was found, around 2:30 pm, at about 3,850 feet.

Twenty minutes later, the plane landed on RDU Runway 5R-23L and veered onto the grass, according to the airport.

The pilot told authorities that the co-pilot had jumped out before the landing, ABC-11 reported.

Authorities received a report about the missing man around 2:30 or 2:45 pm , said Darshan Patel, operations manager for Wake County emergency management, said at a news briefing Friday evening. The search took another four hours.

Several trips that day

The plane had made multiple trips earlier that day, including flights near or at Rocky-Mount Wilson Regional Airport and Laurinburg Maxton Airport.

Patel and Fuquay-Varina police said Crooks was found after a resident in the Sonoma Springs subdivision flagged down search crews who already were in the neighborhood.

The pilot, the only passenger on the plane when it reached the ground, was taken to a Duke University hospital with minor injuries, an airport spokesperson said.

The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration will lead an investigation into the incident with Fuquay-Varina Police Department’s help, the police department announced on Facebook Friday.

It could be months before their report is released.

This story was originally published July 30, 2022 5:24 PM.

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Teddy Rosenbluth covers science for The News & Observer in a position funded by Duke Health and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press, and the Concord Monitor. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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