A recording of radio calls between an air traffic controller at Raleigh-Durham International Airport and the pilot of a stricken CASA C-212 twin-engine turboprop light cargo plane involved in a fatal incident on July 29 has now emerged online. The pilot can be heard explaining multiple times that his co-pilot got up and jumped out of the back of the aircraft, which was missing a main landing gear wheel and was about to attempt an emergency landing, without a parachute and was likely dead. The clip adds new, if still perplexing details to this already bizarre story, which you can get up to speed on first by reading The War Zone's initial reporting.
The C-212, which carries the U.S. civil registration code M497CA, is registered to a company called Spore Ltd LLC, which appears directly related to contractor Rampart Aviation, was able to make a successful emergency landing with the pilot remaining onboard only suffering minor injuries. Authorities subsequently conducted a search of the surrounding area where the other pilot jumped in Wake County, North Carolina, and found what was initially said to be the body of a 27-year-old male. The deceased was subsequently identified as 23-year-old Charles Hew Crooks. At the time of writing, the surviving pilot does not appear to have been named publicly. He and Crooks have both been identified as Rampart Aviation employees.
Publicly available air traffic control audio recordings had previously revealed details about the basic circumstances of the incident. N497CA, which was using the callsign Shady 02 at the time, had lost its right main landing gear wheel during a rough landing or touch-and-go and had diverted to Raleigh-Durham to make an emergency landing. That clip had also confirmed that two individuals were on board after the wheel broke off.
The exact circumstances surrounding Crooks' subsequent exit from the plane, which has a rear ramp, remain something of a mystery. In the new air traffic control recording of the conversation between the pilot and Raleigh-Durham's tower, which you can listen to here, both individuals, the remaining pilot and the air traffic controller, sound somewhat in shock.
A full transcript of the clip, which is only one minute and 15 seconds long, and appears to come right before the plane made its emergency landing, is as follows:
Pilot (P): "Raleigh Approach, Shady 02."
Raleigh Approach (RA): "Shady 02, Raleigh"
P: "My co-pilot just ran out the back of the plane."
RA: "Shady 02, what now?"
P: "He just ran out the back of the plane."
RA: "So you don't have a co-pilot on you, sir?"
P: "No, he just jumped out the back of the plane."
RA: "Uh, roger."
P: "Would you like me to circle where he leapt at?"
RA: "Uh, say that again?"
P: "Would you like me to circle where he got out at, or you got me on track?"
RA: "We've still got you on track, but did you need something else?"
P: "No, the dude literally jumped out the back of the plane without a parachute."
*Seven seconds of total silence*
RA: "Shady 02, did you need to do something else, circle or something, or-"
P: "No, I need to land. I'm just making you aware you're gonna have a dead body out where I just called you at. He just jumped out the back of the plane."
RA: "Roger, continue on your heading 0-5-0."
P: "Roger, 0-5-0, 0-2."
This is almost certainly what prompted Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees in the tower at Raleigh-Durham to subsequently call 9-1-1 to report that an individual had jumped from the airplane. A recording of that call emerged publicly last week, a portion of which can be heard in the video below.
The War Zone reached out to Rampart Aviation about the incident after it happened and has not yet received a response. Rampart is on contract to provide parachute training and other airdrop services to elements of the U.S. military, including U.S. Special Operations Command. The aircraft appears to have been supporting training of some kind linked to the U.S. Army's nearby Fort Bragg, a hub for the service's airborne and special operations units, at the time of the incident.
Photographs subsequently provided to The War Zone by a reader, seen at the top of this story and below, show the C-212 at Raleigh Durham with either the original right main landing gear wheel reattached, significantly repaired, or a new one installed in its place. Those pictures also show a missing portion of the landing gear sponson on that side of the aircraft.
FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are currently investigating the incident. Police at Raleigh-Durham Airport questioned the pilot after the emergency landing and turned the contents of that interview over to FAA and NSTB investigators, according to WRAL-TV, a Capitol Broadcasting Company-owned television station in the Raleigh-Durham area.
At the time of writing, no official statements appear to have been made by any of the relevant authorities regarding the ongoing investigation. Family and friends of Crooks have publicly said they are hoping answers regarding his death will ultimately emerge.
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