RAEFORD, N.C. (WNCN) — On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board officially opened an investigation into a plane’s emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport that ended in one pilot’s death.
The mystery really started at an air landing strip in Raeford. It looks like just a grass field, but it’s where the plane first apparently made a hard landing, lost a wheel and then took off toward RDU. But once the plane landed there, only one pilot was on board.
A ten-person plane carrying just two pilots landed at the airstrip in Raeford around 1 p.m. on Friday. One of the pilots on board was 23-year-old Charles Crooks.
But at some point on the journey toward Raleigh — when the plane was somewhere over the Fuquay-Varina area — Crooks either fell or jumped from the plane. What exactly happened on the fight from Raeford to RDU remains a mystery, with some clues being found on FlightAware’s online tracking system.
In the log, you can see that in the days leading up to Friday, the plane made several flights across North Carolina, mostly from Rocky Mount to Maxton. Then on Friday, the plane went from Rocky Mount to Raeford. That’s when one of the pilots on board called in to air traffic control requesting to land at RDU.
“We were attempting to land, we made contact with the ground, had a hard landing, and decided to go around, and at that point we lost the wheel,” one pilot on board can be heard saying in a call to air traffic control.
Around 2:49 p.m., the aircraft landed at RDU without Crooks on board. His body was later found in a Fuquay-Varina neighborhood.
The NTSB has since opened an investigation into the landing, saying in a statement, “NTSB has not conducted any interviews at this time but continues to collect information from various sources.” The agency also says preliminary information shows that the plane “sustained substantial damage to the landing gear and fuselage.”
Other than that, officials aren’t saying much about the investigation. CBS 17 has tried to get 911 calls from that day, but we’re told the NTSB has to agree to release those calls. CBS 17 has also reached out to several agencies to confirm whether Crooks fell or jumped from the plane and no agency was able to give an answer.
The NTSB says an investigation with their team typically takes anywhere from 12-18 months to complete.