Three confirmed dead in Navy plane crash west of Spokane


by, KING 5 News and Associated Press

Posted on March 11, 2013 at 11:16 AM

Updated Monday, Mar 11 at 5:09 PM

LINCOLN COUNTY, Wash. -- The U.S. Navy said all three crew members aboard one of its planes died in a crash in Eastern Washington.

The Prowler was "engaged in a low-level navigation training mission," the Navy told Congress.

Whidbey Island officials said the cause of the accident was under investigation.

The Navy said no parachutes were spotted by the wingman, and first responders found remains of the E/A-6B Prowler's crew.

The plane crashed near Coffee Pot Road and Duck Lake Lamona Road between Harrington and Odessa around 8:30 a.m. Monday, U.S. Navy Lt. Kakiel told KREM 2 News.

Witnesses said the plane was in a nose dive.

The crash scene is said to span more than 2 miles. There are not any signs of the plane, but the collision left a large crater in the ground.

Officials say the three victims' bodies are still in the wreckage. Their names are not expected to be released until Tuesday after the victims' families have been notified.

A witness told KREM 2 News he heard an "incredible boom" around 8:30 a.m. Monday and saw a large plume of smoke.  Joel Cronrath said he went toward the scene and saw wreckage from the crash.  Cronrath said he drives a bus, and often sees military fighter jets training in the area, performing difficult maneuvers.

Stan Dammel, manager of the Odessa airport, said he flew over the scene after hearing of the crash.  He said all he could see was a charred spot on the ground with debris scattered.

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.

Residents in the town of Whidbey Island community of Oak Harbor are reacting with sadness. It's a tight community with a large number of current and former personnel from the base.
"This is a small military town. We’re all family. It’s uh a great loss for any of us," said Dennis Jones of the American Legion Post as he lowered the post's flag to half staff.
Other residents said the town never gets used to hearing of these kinds of tragedies but knows what to do when they happen. An effort is already underway to help the families of victims.

Rep. Rick Larsen issued a statement following the crash, saying "The thoughts and prayers of Northwest Washington are with the families of the aircrew who lost their lives today. I grieve with Whidbey Island for the loss of three of our own. 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. I stand ready to give my full support to NAS Whidbey Island and the local Navy community as they investigate this accident and mourn these losses."