He and the unnamed pilot had been transporting skydivers when their aircraft ‘dropped’, with its landing gear hitting a runway, according to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Crooks declared an emergency and communicated with air traffic controllers to divert to another airport for an emergency landing, but around 20 minutes later appeared to become unsettled.
The report, which was released yesterday (16 August), states how Crooks ‘became visibly upset about the hard landing’ and stopped communicating with air traffic controllers at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
He then opened the side cockpit window at 3,500ft, with the commanding pilot telling investigators that Crooks ‘may have gotten sick’ – before he lowered the ramp at the bank of the airplane, indicating that he needed air.
The report said, at this point, Crooks ‘got up from his seat, removed his headset, apologized and departed the airplane via the aft ramp door’.
At the time, the plane was around 30 miles south of Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and Crooks did not have a parachute.
The report said: “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.
“The PIC proceeded on course to RDU, where he performed a low-approach and then emergency landing. Upon landing, the airplane departed the right side of the runway and came to rest upright in the grass. Postaccident examination of the airplane revealed substantial damage to the RMLG, landing gear fittings, and the airframe structure where the fittings attach.”
An audio file of the conversation between air traffic control and emergency services that Crooks had ‘made impact’ with the ground.
A controller could be heard telling the 911 dispatcher: “We have a pilot that was inbound to the field. His co-pilot jumped out of the aircraft. He made impact to the ground and here are the coordinates.”
Crooks’ father, Hew Crooks, said his son was a certified flight instructor and had spent years working to become a pilot.
He told WRAL: “He pursued his private pilot license while he was in college. I think he got that when he was a sophomore. He said a couple weeks ago he wouldn’t trade places with anybody in the world. He loved where he was.”
Crooks added: “I can’t imagine what happened.
“We’ll figure it out, I suppose.”