Pilot said he ‘needed air’ before exiting plane and plummeting to his death

A young pilot who became “visibly upset” about an emergency landing in North Carolina last month allegedly told his copilot he needed some air before jumping to his death, officials have said.

Charles Hew Crooks, 23, jumped to his death from an aircraft flying over North Carolina on 29 July, a preliminary report released on Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board said.

The other pilot told investigators that Crooks, his copilot, “became visibly upset” about a hard emergency landing earlier in the flight when the pair were running parachute jump flights out of Raeford West Airport.

According to the report, Crooks was piloting the aircraft on its third approach toward a runway at Raeford West Airport earlier on 29 July when the plane’s landing gear impacted the runway in a failed landing.

The other pilot assumed control of the plane and directed Crooks to declare an emergency and to request a diversion to Raleigh-Durham International Airport for landing.

The pilot told investigators that Crooks became upset “about 20 minutes into the diversion to RDU, after conducting approach and emergency briefings,” the report stated.

Crooks stopped communicating with air traffic controllers at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, where the aircraft had been diverted to, and “may have gotten sick” before telling the other pilot that he need some air, the report explained.

He then proceeded to lower the ramp in the back of the plane and “got up from his seat, removed his headset, apologised and departed the airplane via the aft ramp door.”

Crooks was not wearing a parachute and, as NBC News reported, did not appear to attempt holding onto a metal bar placed above the ramp before “exiting” to his death.

The pilot’s body was later found in a backyard in the town of Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, and an investigation was carried out by the National Transportation Safety Board. The other pilot was not named.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.