Man found dead after jumping out of plane before RDU landing

A 23-year-old man who “exited” a plane Friday afternoon before it made an emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport was found dead around 7 pm in Fuquay-Varina, authorities said.

After a massive search that involved several municipal, county and federal agencies, the man’s body was found behind a house near Sunset Lake and Hilltop Needmore roads, Darshan Patel, operations manager for Wake County emergency management, said at a news briefing after the discovery.

Friday night, the man was identified as Charles Hew Crooks of Raleigh, according to a post on the Fuquay-Varina Police Department’s Facebook page. Earlier Friday, Patel did not identify Crooks but said he was 27 years old.

Crooks was the plane’s co-pilot, the Fuquay-Varina Police Department said.

Patel and Fuquay-Varina police said Crooks was found after a resident in the Sonoma Springs subdivision flagged down search crews who already were in the vicinity of the neighborhood.

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Emergency personnel scour a search area Friday, July 29, 2022 in Fuquay-Varina, NC after a twin-engine turboprop aircraft made an emergency landing at RDU International Airport and skidded off the runway. A person exited the plane prior to the emergency landing and was found dead in a Fuquay-Varina residential backyard. Travis Long tlong@newsobserver.com

That was the tragic ending to a confusing emergency at RDU Friday. Around 3 pm, a twin-engine turbo prop aircraft reported landing gear issues as it approached the airport, according to the airport. The plane landed on Runway 5R-23L and veered into the grass, according to the airport.

The pilot, the only passenger on the plane when it reached the ground, was taken to a Duke University hospital with minor injuries, an airport spokesperson said.

Authorities received a report about the missing man around 2:30 or 2:45 pm, Patel said. By 5 p.m., EMS, police and fire departments were searching a large swath of Wake County for a second person who may have “exited the plane while it was in air,” said Carolyn Roman with the Town of Cary.

Patel said search crews had “wished for a better outcome.” He didn’t know whether the man who had died had jumped or fell, he said. The man did not have a parachute, Patel said. He did not know how high the plane was flying when the man exited the plane.

072922-PLANE EMERGENCY-TEL-02.jpg
A North Carolina State Highway Patrol helicopter flies over a search area Friday, July 29, 2022 in Fuquay-Varina, NC after a twin-engine turboprop aircraft made an emergency landing at RDU International Airport and skidded off the runway. A person exited the plane prior to the emergency landing and was found dead in a Fuquay-Varina residential backyard. Travis Long tlong@newsobserver.com

Patel and the Fuquay-Varina Police Department deferred questions on the investigation to RDU, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Searchers worked with RDU Airport and the FAA to map the plane’s flight plan and compare it to the pilot’s radio traffic, Patel said. Searchers deployed a drone as well as an NC State Highway Patrol helicopter to comb a large area from southern Wake County to the Harnett County line, Patel said.

Searchers were narrowing their search area when the man’s body was found.

Few details on plane’s path

According to FlightAware.com, the plane departed from Raeford in Hoke County at 1:10 pm and landed about 2:49 pm

Because the flight was not a commercial flight, airport officials did not know whether RDU was the intended destination.

The plane is registered to Spore LTD LLC from Colorado Springs, according to FlightAware.

According to the company’s North Carolina business registration, Spore Ltd. is managed by another company, Rampart Aviation, which offers pilot and aircraft training commercially and for the Department of Defense.

A recently uploaded photo of the aircraft shows a Rampart logo on the tail of the plane.

Mindy Fulton, listed as Spore Ltd.’s company agent and the director of human resources for Rampart on Linkedin, declined to comment when contacted by the N&O.

News & Observer reporter Teddy Rosenbluth contributed to this story.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

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This story was originally published July 29, 2022 3:48 PM.

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