A North Carolina pilot died Friday afternoon under mysterious circumstances, officials said.
Charles Hugh Crooks, 23, was one of two people aboard the small, 10-person plane Friday but it landed in Wake County, North Carolina, with only one person aboard, WRAL reported.
Authorities say Crooks jumped or fell from the plane in mid-air without a parachute.
The remaining co-pilot safely made an emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport after notifying air traffic control that the plane’s right wheel had failed and he was taken to a hospital with minor injuries, according to reports.
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Dozens of first responders were at Raleigh-Durham International Airport and several other officials scoured the local area and the plane’s flight path to search for Crooks’ body.
His body was found that evening, around 7 p.m., in the woods behind the Fuquay-Varina residential area, about 30 miles from Raleigh-Durham International Airport, authorities said.
Police said the body was later found about 30 to 40 feet from the house and residents alerted law enforcement officers who canvassed the area.
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Wake County Emergency Management chief of operations Darshan Patel told a group of reporters that residents reached out to law enforcement officials when they “heard something in their backyard.”
At a news conference that evening, Fuquay-Varina Police Chief Brandon Medina said Crooks’ body fell at least 3,500 feet. He said it was not immediately clear whether the pilot had died before the crash but authorities were investigating the incident.
Chief Medina did not say whether the investigation was being handled solely as a criminal investigation or that the situation was “unique.”
“I believe this was a first for many of us,” Patel added.
Crooks recently earned his pilot’s license and loves to fly, his family said, WRAL reported.
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Asked about the death, Hugh Crooks, father of the dead pilot, said: “We can’t process it right now, I don’t know.”
“He pursued a private pilot’s license when he was in college. I think he got it when he was a sophomore,” Crooks added. “He said a few weeks ago, he wouldn’t trade with anybody in the world. He likes where he is.”
As for the mysterious details surrounding the death, the father said he “can’t imagine what happened.”
“We’ll figure it out, I guess,” he concluded.
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The surviving co-pilot was released from the hospital after being treated for minor injuries, WRAL reported.
The police chief said investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are leading the investigation. Federal, state and local authorities are assisting in the investigation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.