Local News

23-year-old pilot dies while pursuing his dream of flying, his father says

According to his father, he was a flying fanatic who had always wanted to take to the skies.

Posted Updated

Adam Owens
, WRAL reporter; Maggie Brown, WRAL multiplatform producer
FUQUAY-VARINA, N.C. — Charles Hew Crooks had been working for years toward the moment he could become a professional pilot. According to his father, Hew Crooks, he was a flying fanatic who had always wanted to take to the skies.

"I don’t know," said Hew Crooks. "We can’t process it right now, I don’t know."

Charles Hew Crooks died Friday when he jumped or fell from a small plane as it approached Raleigh-Durham International Airport. That plane made an emergency landing with one person on board.

Hew Crooks does not understand what led his son to leave the plane before that emergency landing.

"He pursued his private pilot license while he was in college. I think he got that when he was a sophomore," Hew Crooks said. "He said a couple weeks ago, he wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world. He loved where he was."

Then came Friday afternoon.

Raleigh-Durham International Airport received a report that a plane made an emergency landing on their runway. The plane was a small 10-person plane. Charles Crooks, the co-pilot, was on the plane when it took off but not when it landed.

His body was found in the backyard of a Fuquay-Varina residence. He did not survive the fall from the plane.

A family in the neighborhood told WRAL News they were in their home when they heard a loud thud outside.

They didn't see anything in their backyard, but within several hours, the street was filled with police.

That night, investigators found Charles Crooks caught in the trees in their backyard.

Investigators said Charles Crooks had either fallen or jumped out of the plane while it was still in the air - without a parachute.

"I can't imagine what happened," his father said. "We’ll figure it out, I suppose."

His father said Charles Crooks had worked as a flight instructor for over a year and had been certified in flying in just about any conditions.

The family is waiting for investigators to determine what led up to his final moments.

"We’re a strong family, and we’re a very loving family. But this, it leaves a hole," his father said. "I don't know. We can't process it right now."

The other pilot was able to safely land the plane and only suffered minor injuries.

Officials said he was released from a local hospital on Friday evening. He has not spoken to the media about his co-pilot's last moments.


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