New 911 calls released on Wednesday reveal how emergency responders in the Triangle area quickly mobilized to begin searching for a co-pilot who allegedly jumped from a plane before it made an emergency landing at the Raleigh Durham International Airport.
Just before 3 p.m. on July 30, Cary 911 received its first call from the Raleigh-Wake Emergency Communications Center alerting them to a co-pilot who had “jumped” out of a small plane in midair.
“The co-pilot jumped? said the dispatcher, looking incredulous. “Where?”
According to six audio recordings released Wednesday by the Cary Police Department, the surviving pilot informed air traffic control that his co-pilot, Charles Hew Crooks, had jumped before their plane landed. The co-pilot had also reported that the right wheel of their aircraft had come down near a private airport in Raeford.
Initial calls said Crooks had jumped from a twin-engine cargo plane within a one-mile radius of West Lake Middle School on West Lake Road.
Within minutes, around 2:57 p.m., emergency responders began gathering at West Lake Middle in Cary. They started talking about what they would need for the research: a drone, a helicopter, and maybe an underwater drone. They worked to get a description of Crooks and to determine where he might have landed.
Subsequently, the Cary Fire Department was instructed to begin combing wooded areas within the radius of West Lake Middle School.
Shortly after, dispatchers were notified that the FAA had recalculated the plane’s location when the pilot called to report that Crooks had jumped. The plane was roughly over 3029 James Slaughter Road, the FAA calculated.
The dispatcher said the co-pilot was “very shaken” by the incident. The pilot who landed the plane has not yet been identified.
As of 5 p.m., authorities were searching a large area of Wake County, from Cary south to the Harnett County line.
Crooks, 23, was found dead at 7 p.m. behind a house near Sunset Lake and Hilltop Needmore roads in the Sonoma Springs subdivision of Fuquay-Varina. He was found about five miles from West Lake Middle, but a few hundred yards from James Slaughter Road.
During the initial search frenzy, first responders did not have a full description of the co-pilot. He was first described as a 27-year-old man. This was later corrected to 23.
They knew he was a 5-foot-10 white male, wearing a black shirt and khaki pants. They didn’t know his name yet and said he didn’t leave the plane with a parachute.
Crooks was later identified by Fuquay-Varina police. The Raleigh man was a pilot and flight instructor.
The incident is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
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This story was originally published August 10, 2022 5:46 p.m.