Mystery surrounds the death of a young co-pilot who either fell or jumped out of a plane over 1000 metres in the air and landed in the backyard of a family home.
Charles Hew Crooks, 23, and a second pilot took off from Raeford in the US state of North Carolina at 1.10pm on Friday, July 29 when they experienced an emergency during an aborted landing.
At 1.50pm, the pilots told traffic control the right wheel of their plane had fallen off during the attempted landing, but when the plane made an emergency landing an hour later, one of the pilots was missing.
The second pilot escaped with minor injuries, while an investigation has been launched into how Mr Crooks exited the plane.
Authorities found Mr Crooks’ body near trees in a residential area about a 40km drive south of the airport.
It’s believed he fell at about 2.30pm, just 19 minutes before the plane managed to land at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
The 23-year-old did not have a parachute on his body, authorities confirmed.
Woman ‘can’t go into backyard’ after pilot’s body found under tree
A woman working from home in the Fuquay-Varina neighbourhood of Sonoma Springs recalled hearing a branch snap from the dense woods behind her house.
Emily Osborn told The News and Observer that she thought nothing of the noise until it was revealed hours later that the sound was caused by Mr Crooks’ falling body.
“I can’t look at that tree,” Ms Osborn said. “I can’t go in my backyard.”
Around 7pm on the day of the incident, police found Mr Crooks’ body at the base of the broken tree in Ms Osborn’s backyard.
The resident said the view from the back of her home now serves as a grim reminder of the tragedy, and hoped an explanation behind the co-pilot’s death would be found to give his family some closure.
“My heart goes out to the family and people involved,” she said.
Aerial photos from the scene show a densely wooded area behind the house with tall, thin trees and thick scrub.
Father mourns the loss of his son
Mr Crooks’ father, Hew Crooks, told WRAL his son had been working as a flight instructor for more than a year and was certified to fly in all conditions.
"He said a couple weeks ago he wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world. He loved where he was," Hew Crooks said.
The grieving father said his son was "born to fly" and couldn’t fathom how his son came to leave the aircraft.
"I can't imagine what happened. We're a strong family and we're a very loving family. But this, it leaves a hole.
"I don't know. We can't process it right now."
Wake County Emergency Management officials are investigating whether Mr Crooks jumped or fell from the plane.
The second pilot was released from hospital the same day as the incident.
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