Pilot, 23, fell 3,500ft to his death from plane after co-pilot issued urgent SOS

Charles Hew Crooks (left) fell to his death as the plane he was co-piloting made an emergency landing in North Carolina (Picture: WRAL)

A 23-year-old plunged nearly 3,500 feet to his death immediately after his co-pilot called air traffic control for assistance.

Charles Hew Crooks, who was training to become a commercial pilot, was serving as co-pilot in a small 10-person aircraft on Friday afternoon when the plane lost the right wheel of its landing gear.

Crooks’ pilot called in an emergency to air traffic control, informing them that they would like to proceed to make an emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham Airport after failing to land at Raeford West Airport.

‘We were attempting to land. We made contact with the ground, had a hard landing and decided to go around. And at that point we lost the wheel,’ the pilot can be heard saying on a recording released by investigators.

When the plane finally touched down around 2.40pm, law enforcement and first responders were already on the scene. Only the pilot remained onboard the plane.

The pilot was treated for minor injuries at a nearby hospital. He was released on Friday evening.

Crooks apparently fell from the plane without a parachute, investigators stated. Authorities are unclear if he jumped or fell from the aircraft.

Crooks was found in a residential neighborhood in Fuquay-Varina. Residents reported hearing a loud thud, and eventually flagged down police searching in the area.

Hours later, his body was recovered in a tree about 30 miles south of Raleigh-Durham Airport.

The circumstances around his death remain a mystery.

Crooks was looking to become a professional pilot. According to his family, he earned his private pilot license while a sophomore in college.

‘He said a couple weeks ago, he wouldn’t trade places with anybody in the world. He loved where he was,’ his father Hew Crooks told .

‘We’re a strong family and we’re a loving family, but this leaves a hole that we don’t know how we’ll ever fill.’

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