The Navy ordered its F-14 fighter jets worldwide to stop flying for three days after a crash Thursday in the Persian Gulf - the third catastrophic loss for the Navy’s front-line fighter in less than a month.
The pilot and radar intercept officer ejected safely before the early morning crash. They were rescued in the northern gulf by a helicopter from the carrier USS Nimitz from which the F-14 was flying, officials said.
There was no hostile action involved, Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Ross said, adding that there was no immediate explanation of what went wrong.
An F-14 crashed last Sunday in the Pacific Ocean; another crashed Jan. 29 in Nashville, Tenn. Ten have gone down in the past two years and 32 since 1991, a record at least a little worse than for other planes.
“This is a mystery,” said Kenneth Bacon, chief spokesman for Defense Secretary William Perry.
Just two days earlier Bacon had said in response to questions about Sunday’s crash, in which the two crewmen were killed, that the Navy saw no pattern in recent F-14 crashes that would call for special safety precautions.
Each of the last three planes to crash was based at Miramar Naval Air Station near San Diego, although they were from different squadrons. Six of the Navy’s 13 F-14 squadrons are at Miramar. The others are at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia.
Immediately after Thursday’s accident, Adm. Mike Boorda, the chief of naval operations, ordered a 72-hour “stand down” of the full F-14 fleet of 337 planes. In that period a team of Navy safety and engineering experts will review the latest crashes in search of common threads, officials said.
The planes cost $32 million apiece.
Bacon said the F-14s were not being grounded for a specific mechanical problem but to allow experts to “wrack their brains for any explanation, no matter how farfetched.”
Pease said the pilot and radar intercept officer had been questioned about the crash. The pilot was identified as Lt. Cmdr. Roger Allen Pyle, 34, of Peoria, Ill., and the radar intercept officer was Lt. Thomas A. Eberhard, 29, of Washougal, Wash.