Photo courtesy YouTube / WRALA 23-year-old pilot exited a plane mid-flight over North Carolina on Friday afternoon before the aircraft made an emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU). It's unclear, based on what is publicly known so far, how or why he exited the aircraft.
An archived recording of the radio communications between the pilot and air traffic controllers indicates that the CASA 212 lost its right wheel during an earlier hard landing. The recording does not mention the copilot exiting the plane.
Local authorities found a body near a residential area in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina. They identified him as 23-year-old Charles Hew Crooks of Raleigh, North Carolina.
His father told WRAL-TV that his son had always wanted to pursue a career in flying.
"He pursued his private pilot license while he was in college. I think he got that when he was a sophomore," he told the TV station. "He said a couple weeks ago, he wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world. He loved where he was."
The CASA 212 has the registration number N497CA and is registered to Spore LTD out of Colorado. Numerous media outlets, including The News andamp; Observer, linked the aircraft to Rampart Aviation, a company that conducts exercises, including parachute training, for the Defense Department and the U.S. military.
Crooks' LinkedIn profile indicates he began working for Rampart in March. A representative of the company declined to comment to The News andamp; Observer on Saturday, according to the newspaper.
Throughout the week, the CASA 212 had made numerous flights daily between Rocky-Mount Wilson Regional Airport (RWI) and Laurinburg Maxton Airport (MEB), according to flight history posted on FlightAware.
In the ATC recording, when asked how the pilot intended to land at RDU, the pilot responded: "I guess we are going to put it on the belly."
Video from WRAL-TV posted to YouTube shows the emergency landing. Emergency crews on the ground immediately approach the grounded plane. The pilot, who has not been identified, was taken to the hospital with what are thought to be non-life-threatening injuries.
The NTSB and FAA are investigating.