US investigators have released a preliminary report into a strange accident, where a co-pilot died after jumping without a parachute from a twin-engine Casa 212-200.
According to the report, the co-pilot had been at the controls when the aircraft, registration N497CA, was damaged on an aborted landing. The upset co-pilot apologized before departing the plane during the subsequent diversion.
Previous media reports had cited a call made to 911 by air traffic controllers in which they said that the co-pilot, identified as Charles Hew Crooks, had jumped out of the aircraft.
How did the plane suffer damage?
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has now released a preliminary report into the unusual accident, which occurred on July 29, 2022, at 14:04 local time.
As per the report, the twin-engine C-212 had already flown two skydiving runs and was descending to Raeford West Airport (NR20), Raeford, North Carolina, to pick up a third group of skydivers.
On the approach, the airplane was on track until it descended below the tree line and then dropped. The two pilots called for a go-around, but before the co-pilot (second-in-command or SIC), who was flying the approach, could halt the sink rate and make the aircraft climb, it struck the runway with the right main landing gear. The pilot-in-command (PIC) took control of the C-212 on the climb-out and flew a low approach over the airport asking staff to check for damage. Airport workers said they had found part of the landing gear on the runway.
The PIC then asked the co-pilot (SIC) to declare an emergency and request a diversion to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), less than 80 miles away to the north.
What happened on the diversion?
The NTSB said that about 20 minutes into the diversion, the PIC told them that the SIC became “visibly upset” about the hard landing.
The SIC was in contact with ATC during the diversion. After acknowledging a course heading from controllers, he opened the side window and the PIC said he may have felt sick, adding there had been moderate turbulence during the flight. The PIC took over communications and told investigators that the co-pilot lowered the ramp at the back of the plane, indicating that he felt he was going to be sick and needed air.
“The PIC stated that the SIC then got up from his seat, removed his headset, apologized, and departed the airplane via the aft ramp door,” the report describes. “The PIC stated that there was a bar one could grab about 6 ft above the ramp; however, he did not witness the SIC grab the bar before exiting the airplane.”
In air traffic control recordings reported by media, the pilot told ATC that his co-pilot “just ran out the back of the plane” and asked them to ensure they had noted the location so rescuers could retrieve the body.
The NTSB report states that the pilot searched for the co-pilot and told air traffic control that the co-pilot had departed the airplane without a parachute.
The pilot proceeded to RDU, where he performed an emergency landing. Upon landing, the plane departed the runway but came to rest in the grass.
The report is preliminary, and the aircraft has been retained for further examination, the NTSB stated.