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March 11, 2013 at 10:52 AM

3 dead in crash of Navy jet from NAS Whidbey

A U.S. Navy Prowler warplane crashed near Harrington, Wash., about 9 a.m. today, on a routine training mission. The plane crashed just off Coffee Pot Road about 10 miles outside of Harrington, said Scott McGowan, the fire chief for Lincoln County Fire District No. 6. Stan Dammel, manager of the Odessa Municipal Airport, flew over the crash site and said he heard on a scanner that authorities had found the plane, but not the crew.

A U.S. Navy Prowler warplane on a training mission crashed near Harrington, Wash., about 9 a.m. today. The plane crashed just off Coffee Pot Road about 10 miles outside of Harrington, said Scott McGowan, fire chief for Lincoln County Fire District No. 6. Stan Dammel, manager of the Odessa Municipal Airport, flew over the crash site and took this photo.

All three  crew members on a Navy jet based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island were killed this morning when their aircraft crashed in Eastern Washington’s Lincoln County, Navy officials have confirmed.

The crew’s names will not be released until 24 hours after their families have been informed, said Lt. Aaron Kakiel in San Diego.

The crew was flying an EA-6B Prowler jet assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron VAQ-129. It crashed about 8:45 a.m. into a field in an unpopulated area near the town of Harrington, about 50 miles west of Spokane.

The Navy said the wingman of the crashed plane reported that no parachutes were deployed.

The Prowler was “engaged in a low-level navigation training mission,” the Navy said. Whidbey Island officials said the cause of the accident was under investigation.

A spokesman for the Whidbey base confirmed that the crashed jet was based there. Whidbey is home to EA-6B Prowler and EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft. P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and EP-3E Aries reconnaissance aircraft are also based there.

NAS Whidbey Island is home to the U.S. Navy’s tactical electronic warfare squadrons. Crews from the base, located on Puget Sound, regularly fly across Eastern Washington for training exercises.

“The thoughts and prayers of northwest Washington are with the families of the aircrew who lost their lives today,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who represents the Whidbey Island area. “This tragic crash is a painful reminder of the dangerous work that members of the armed services perform every day in service to our nation.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the crew of the plane was serving the nation.

“I know all Washingtonians join me in sending condolences to the crew’s families and to their fellow service members,” Inslee said.

The Spokane Spokesman-Review reported that a pair of Navy jets were operating in the area, according to Lincoln County Sheriff Wade Magers. The other plane reported the crash and then returned to base because it was low on fuel, he said.

The Grumman EA-6B Prowler. (Naval Air Systems Command photo)

The Grumman EA-6B Prowler. (Naval Air Systems Command photo)

Stan Dammel, manager of the Odessa Municipal Airport, told the Spokane paper he flew over the crash site and photographed it.

“It looked like an ink spot down there,” Dammel said

The type of electronic-warfare plane that crashed today had been involved in crashes in the past. Among them:

In 2006, after an EA-6B Prowler from the Whidbey Island base crashed near Pendleton, Ore.,  the Navy ordered a half-day grounding for all its aircraft for an internal safety review, according to The Associated Press. In 1992 and again in 2001, crews parachuted to safety when their Prowlers crashed on the Olympic Peninsula. In 1998,  three crewmen were lost overboard when a Prowler crashed into another jet on the deck of the USS Enterprise. Four died in a 1996 crash near Yuma, Ariz., and three died in 1992 near El Centro, Calif.

In 1993, an A-6E Intruder, the plane the EA-6B is based on, collided with a crop duster over the Palouse near Diamond, Whitman County. The pilot of the crop duster was critically injured, and the Navy crew parachuted to safety.

And in 1998, the Marine pilot of a EA-6B Prowler severed a ski-gondola cable near Cavalese, Italy,  sending the 20 people aboard the gondola on 350-foot plunge to their deaths.

The EA-6B Prowler was first stationed at Whidbey Island in 1971 and deployed to Vietnam in 1972.

Includes material from The Associated Press.

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