NTSB Preliminary Report Includes PIC Testimony In Fatal Copilot Plunge


The NTSB’s preliminary report (accident number ERA22LA348 ) on the July 29 fatal flight of CASA 212 N497CA, released today (Aug. 16), includes input from the still-unidentified pilot in command (PIC), who landed the damaged skydiving aircraft after his copilot, 23-year-old Charles Hew Crooks, exited via the aft ramp, falling to his death. The report remains inconclusive as to whether Crooks did or did not leave the aircraft intentionally.

As previously reported by AVweb (and followed up here), the twin-engine turboprop was damaged in a hard landing at Raeford West Airport (NR20) in North Carolina. The newly released NTSB report reveals that the second-in-command pilot (SIC), later identified as Crooks, was at the controls for the hard landing that substantially damaged the (fixed) right main landing gear. The pilot in command told the board the SIC was “on heading, altitude and airspeed” until the airplane descended below the tree line and “dropped.” The crew had flown two groups of skydivers and was returning to pick up a third load when the hard landing occurred.

Both pilots called for a go-around, and the PIC assumed control at about 400 feet AGL, according to the report. After overflying the field for ground observers to verify the aircraft’s condition (the heavily damaged landing gear was recovered from the runway), the PIC directed the SIC to declare an emergency and request a diversion to Raleigh Durham International Airport (KRDU). During the flight to RDU, Crooks communicated with air traffic control as the PIC flew. The PIC told the board that both pilots participated in coordinating with ATC, operations and their Part 135 customer, while also briefing the approach and emergency landing procedure.

The flight encountered moderate turbulence, the PIC told the board, and about 20 minutes into the diversion, he said, the SIC became “visibly upset” over the hard landing. He opened his side window and “may have gotten sick,” the PIC said.

According to the NTSB report, “The PIC took over radio communications, and the SIC lowered the ramp in the back of the airplane, indicating that felt like he was going to be sick and needed air. The PIC stated that the SIC then got up from his seat, removed his headset, apologized, and departed the airplane via the aft ramp door. The PIC stated that there was a bar one could grab about six feet above the ramp; however, he did not witness the SIC grab the bar before exiting the airplane.”

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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      • To clarify: I’m not assuming it was suicide, just adding a fifth possibility to the original post mentioning four possible outcomes. We will never know if it’s bad luck accident with turbulent air and an un-tethered SIC or a deliberate exit. RIP indeed young man

  1. Sounds like suicide. If the PIC statement is accurate, there should have been a trail of vomit along the right fuselage. Poor kid! Perhaps he believed his dream of a flying career was shattered.

  2. Just read about all the broken planes that Bob Hoover had, and he was the GOAT. So one “boo-Boo” would not have ended a career.

  3. In 73 I wrecked a T-28C while in the Corps. The board cleared me of any wrongdoing and put the blame on the Navy pilot flying an E-2., however…………it made me sick to my stomach for several days/which turned into weeks. I went over and over in my head what I might have done differently. Even today with thousands of more hours under my belt I still wonder if could I have taken a different approach or gone around to prevent this crash.

    RIP gent I feel bad that you might have jumped.

    • E.K. you’ve peaked my interest. In ’72 I was a T-28 student in VT-3 at Whiting; and ’75 – ’78 I was a T-28 instructor in VT-6. If you’re comfortable with sharing, what happened to cause your incident?

  4. Ah, thankyou, makes sense.

    Conscientious pilot failed common sense – short cargo area, confused, ….. unknown.

    (As far as PIC saying FO jumped, perhaps slip of tongue since ‘jump’ was the mission – carrying persons jumping out with parachute.)

  5. Unfortunately, the pilot’s testimony does pretty much resolve the “mystery” surrounding the entire case. At least to the extent it CAN be resolved.

  6. Suicide? I don’t think that is a totally reasonable assumption. It sounds far more like in the throes of his illness, the SIC simply missed the plane’s safety bar and accidentally slipped out the door.

  7. Since they knew the status of the gear, fly-by and pieces recovered, falling out while leaning out to look is less likely to have happened. Right or wrongfully so, he may have figured this job was over but it would take a very weak and confused mind to conclude your life should be over.

  8. I can empathize with the kid. There have been times in my life when I just wanted to give up and quit.

  9. Something else must have been going on with the co-pilot. It sure sounds like he took a swan dive on purpose.

  10. The saddest part is that he was likely a good conscientious young man that loved aviation. If he was an arrogant jerk he would have found a way to blame anything but himself.

    Kind of scary to think about. Someone feeling that a mistake that happened in a second could never be fixed may have led to a mistake that happened in a second that REALLY could never be fixed.

  11. I think we should assume accident. Imagine making an ordinary comment about feeling “upset” or “frustrated” at work then go outside and make misstep off a curb in front of a bus. Now just because of this comment everyone says you killed yourself! It’s not fair to this poor guy.