A North Carolina pilot died under mysterious circumstances Friday afternoon, officials said.
Charles Hew Crooks, 23, was one of two people onboard the small, 10-person plane Friday but it landed with just one person in Wake County, North Carolina, WRAL reported.
Authorities say Crooks either jumped or fell from the plane in midair without a parachute.
According to the report, the remaining co-pilot safely conducted an emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport after reporting to air traffic control that the plane had lost its right wheel and was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
Dozens of first responders were at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport and several other officers canvassed the local area and the plane’s flight path to search for Crooks’ body.
His body was found later that evening, around 7 p.m., in the woods behind a Fuquay-Varina residential area, about 30 miles from the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, authorities said.
Police said later the body landed about 30 to 40 feet from a home and its residents alerted law enforcement officials who were canvassing the area.
Wake County Emergency Management chief of operations Darshan Patel told a group of reporters that the residents reached out to the law enforcement officers after they “heard something in their backyard.”
During a press 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 if the pilot was dead before the fall but that authorities are continuing to investigate the incident.
Chief Medina did not say if the investigation is being treated as a criminal investigation, only that the situation was “unique.”
“I believe this was a first for many of us that were working this incident today,” Patel added.
Crooks recently obtained his pilot’s license and loved to fly, his family said, WRAL reported.
When asked about the death, Hew Crooks, the deceased pilot’s father, said: “We can’t process it right now, I don’t know.”
“He pursued his private pilot license while he was in college. I think he got that when he was a sophomore,” Crooks added. “He said a couple of weeks ago, he wouldn’t trade places with anybody in the world. He loved where he was.”
Regarding the mysterious details surrounding the death, the father said he “can’t imagine what happened.”
“We’ll figure it out, I suppose,” he concluded.
The surviving co-pilot was released from the hospital after they were treated for minor injuries, WRAL reported.
The police chief said National Transportation Safety Board investigators are leading the investigation. Federal, state and local authorities are assisting in the investigation.