RALEIGH — A 911 call from air traffic controllers suggests that a co-pilot may have decided to jump from a damaged plane before it made an emergency landing.
It’s been unclear exactly how — or why — 23-year-old Charles Crooks exited the small cargo plane just over a week ago about 30 miles south of Raleigh-Durham International Airport. He did not have a parachute. It’s also been speculated that he may have fallen out trying to inspect a damaged wheel that led him and another pilot to attempt an emergency landing.
But it also may be neither of those things.
According to a 911 call, two unnamed Federal Aviation Administration employees can be heard telling a dispatcher that the plane was heading to the airport. The pilot onboard had apparently told them that his co-pilot had “jumped out of the aircraft.”
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“We have a pilot that was inbound to the field,” a controller told the 911 dispatcher. “His co-pilot jumped out of the aircraft. He made impact to the ground and here are the coordinates.”
The call lasted about 13 minutes, with the controllers stating several times that the co-pilot had jumped.
Darshan Patel, an operations manager for Wake County emergency management, said the initial 911 call prompted the search for Crooks.
Authorities received a report about the missing man around 2:30 p.m. Searchers worked with Raleigh-Durham International Airport and the FAA to map the plane’s flight plan and compare it to the pilot’s radio traffic. Searchers deployed a drone as well as a State Highway Patrol helicopter to comb a large area from southern Wake County to the Harnett County line.
By 5 p.m., EMS, police and fire departments were searching a large swath of Wake County for Crooks.
By 7 p.m., Fuquay-Varina police said Crooks was discovered behind a house after a resident in a Sonoma Springs subdivision flagged down search crews who already were in the vicinity of the neighborhood.