3 confirmed dead in crash of Navy plane

A U.S. Navy warplane crashed near Harrington, Wash., about 9 a.m. today, on a routine training mission.

The EA-6B Prowler, an electronic warfare jet, was based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, authorities said. The jets frequently fly training missions in Eastern Washington.

Lincoln County Sheriff Wade Magers said three people were killed in the crash. The Navy has not officially confirmed the status of those aboard.

Navy personnel are en route to the scene by helicopter, according to a news release.

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.

A pair of Navy jets were flying in the area this morning, Magers said. One of the aircraft, described as a spotter plane, reported the crash and then returned to base because it was low on fuel, he said.

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 pilot.

“It looked like an ink spot down there,” Dammel said of the crash site.

Mike Johnson, a farm worker in the area who was feeding cattle, said he saw a black mushroom cloud off in the distance shortly before 9 a.m. but didn’t hear an explosion.

The EA-6B Prowler is flown by the Navy and Marine Corps and specializes in electronic warfare such as jamming enemy radar and intercepting radio transmissions. It also can be equipped with anti-radiation missiles. Built by Northrop Grumman, each aircraft cost about $52 million.

The jet that crashed Monday was assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ-129) at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Known as the Vikings, it is a training squadron for Navy and Marine Corps flight crews.

It’s not the first time a Whidbey Island-based warplane has crashed in the area. An A-6E Intruder was practicing low-level bombing runs over the Palouse April 14, 1993, when it collided with a crop duster, injuring the farm plane’s pilot and scattering wreckage over the wheat fields. The two Navy pilots parachuted out, suffering minor injuries, before the plane went up in flames. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation faulted neither pilot for the crash. However, the Navy compensated Fender Air Service for the plane the crop-duster was flying.

In Eastern Oregon, a Prowler crashed in 2006 but the crew safely ejected, and in 2001 another crashed in 2001 on the Olympic Peninsula in Western Washington, according to news reports.

It’s the same type of warplane that was being flown by a Marine crew in 1998 during a low-altitude flight when it clipped a gondola cable in Italy, killing 20 civilians.

The Prowler is a long-range, all-weather aircraft with advanced electronic countermeasures capability.