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Navy plane crash leaves three dead

‘Loud boom’ preceded smoke from Prowler’s training flight, witness reports

The remains of three U.S. Navy fliers killed in Monday’s training flight crash 20 miles southwest of Davenport, Wash., will be recovered later today.

“The site will remain secure until the team from Dover Air Base arrives and takes care of that procedure,” said Lincoln County Sheriff Wade Magers. The Air Force has forensic and medical teams who handle such crashes, Magers said.

The crew of the EA-6B Prowler will be identified 24 hours after family members have been notified, said a spokesman from Naval Air Base Whidbey Island.

The twin-engine jet crashed into an Eastern Washington wheat field and exploded just before 9 a.m. Monday. A black cloud of smoke was seen by residents as far as 20 miles away. The cause of the crash had not been determined.

The crash was reported by a Navy spotter jet that accompanied the Prowler. After remaining at the site for roughly 30 minutes, it returned to the Whidbey base because it was low on fuel, Magers said.

About 50 Lincoln County and nearby volunteer fire crews responded to the site. Magers said the crash, a half-mile north of Coffee Pot Road and about eight miles west of Harrington, left a streak of blackened field that began with a crater and produced a primary debris field measuring roughly 500 yards by 300 yards.

Flights from Naval Air Base Whidbey Island have been a common sight across much of Eastern Washington farm country, residents said.

Nancy Timm, whose home sits 2 1/2 miles from the crash, said she was in her garage when she heard what she thought was a plane flying low overhead. Soon after, she heard a boom, then went out and saw the smoke rising from the crash. “I don’t think the first sound was the jet,” Timm said. “Usually the training jets just scream by overhead. It wasn’t that loud. But then I heard the loud boom,” she said.

She and her husband, Don Timm, rent the land where the crash occurred.

“I’ve lived here for 40 years, and this is the first crash of a training flight I’ve seen,” Timm said.

Karen Carlson, who lives near the crash site, said she was talking on the phone when she heard what she thought was a sonic boom between 8:30 and 9 a.m.

“Then the whole house just shook,” she said of the jet’s impact. “I told the guy (on the phone), ‘Oh, it’s an earthquake.’ ”

Odessa private pilot Stan Dammell took off from the Odessa Airport shortly after hearing the first emergency scanner reports. A retired volunteer fireman, Dammell said he wanted to see if he could help rescue teams by flying overhead.

“I’m also a little bit curious by nature,” he added.

Dammell flew over the crash site just before 9:30 a.m. and found practically no metal or airplane parts still visible. “There wasn’t much left of anything,” he said, because the impact ignited the plane’s jet fuel.

Dammell snapped several photos from the air and emailed them to area news organizations. “Then my phone began ringing all afternoon,” he said.

Dammell and his wife, Debby, have aviation maps that include some of the military air routes used for practice flights. The couple took the map and pointed to the crash site, right next to a thin, gray line marking one training route.

“So, he was right where he was supposed to be at the time,” Stan Dammell said, noting the impact site suggests the plane was heading southeast when it crashed.

Whidbey Island is the home of the Navy’s tactical electronic squadrons that fly the Prowler and other similar aircraft. The planes are used by the military to jam enemy radar through electronic transmitters.

The downed Prowler was assigned to the Electronic Attack Squadron 129 (VAQ-129). The base calls the unit the Vikings squadron.

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