A Whidbey Island-based EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft has gone down in Lincoln County and the Navy has confirmed all three personnel on board were killed in the crash.
Commander, Naval Air Forces, headquartered at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, Calif. confirmed the deaths of the aircrew. The names of the Navy personnel killed in the crash will not be released until 24 hours after family members have been informed.
The aircraft involved was assigned to VAQ-129 "Vikings," the Navy's training squadron that teaches new aircrew from both the Navy and Marine Corps in flight operations of both the Prowler and the EA-18G Growler.
The Prowler typically has a four-person aircrew consisting of a pilot and up to three electronic countermeasures officers.
The Prowler reportedly went down just after 9 a.m., near Coffee Pot Lake Road and Duck Lake Lamona Road west of Harrington and northeast of Odessa, according to Scott McGowan, fire chief for Lincoln County Fire District No. 6.
HaLee Walter lives near the scene where the aircraft went down and said she heard what she described as a sonic boom and then her whole house shook.
"My kids and my dog ran upstairs, and then I had gone outside and I could hear another a military aircraft because they fly all the time down here and they're very loud and we're used to them, and I could hear the aircraft and I'm like 'Oh you know maybe it was just a sonic boom,'" she said.
"I called my husband and I'm like 'Did you just feel that? Did you hear that?' and he's like yeah, he's like 'I think an airplane just went down, I just saw a huge plume of smoke north of the house.'"
"I went outside and of course I could see the smoke and then I took my son and we drove other there because it didn't look like it was very far from our house, and the ambulance and police and fire trucks were all there and [the] plane had gone down and there was still another military aircraft circling," she added.
A crew from the National Transportation Safety Board is heading to the scene and should be there around 11 a.m.
Whidbey Island NAS is home to the U.S. Navy's tactical electronic warfare squadrons, which fly the EA-6B Prowler and the EA-18G Growler. The Growler is based on the F/A-18 Hornet fighter attack aircraft and carries a two-person crew. The Growler is being phased into service to replace the Prowler, which carries a four-person crew.
Navy aircrews fly across Eastern Washington for training exercises, according to Kim Martin, a public information officer for Whidbey Island, who confirmed an overflight of two pair of Growlers over the Spokane area in September 2011.
"It was a routine training session. That's a designated military training route part of their flight training curriculum," Martin said in 2011.
In addition to being home to the Navy's electronic warfare squadrons, the Navy's Electronic Attack Weapons School is based at Whidbey Island NAS. The school trains aircrews in the tactical operations of the Navy's Prowlers and Growlers.
The last mishap involving an EA-6B Prowler in our area was in March 2006, when a Prowler with VAQ-135 "Black Ravens" went down during a training exercise in a remote area of Umatilla County in northeastern Oregon. All four crewmen aboard the aircraft ejected safely.
KXLY's Aaron Luna reports that crews at the crash scene are also dealing with hazardous materials from the rockets that propel the aircrew's ejection seats. The EA-6B is equipped with the Martin-Baker GRUEA-7 ejection seat, which allows the aircrew to eject from the aircraft from zero altitude and a minimum of 80 knots. The seats contain explosive cartridges and rockets which fire the seats through the canopy of the aircraft.
The Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler is based on the A-6 Intruder platform and was first introduced into the fleet in 1970. While they have served in combat in conflicts ranging from Vietnam to Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan, none have ever been lost in combat.
However, numerous EA-6Bs have been lost during peacetime, In 1998, Whidbey Island NAS dedicated a memorial to 44 aircrew who have died in Prowler crashes. Monday's crash is the first fatal mishap involving a Prowler since 1998.
One of the most significant peacetime mishaps involving a Prowler was in 1998, when a Marine EA-6B flying low over terrain cut the cable line for a gondola in Cavalese, Italy. Twenty civilians in the gondola were killed when the cable snapped. The aircraft sustained damage but was able to return to Aviano Air Base in Italy.
Video: Footage from front cockpit of an EA-6B Prowler on the first half of the VR-1355 low-level route through the Cascade Mountains in Western Washington. Aircraft is flying 500 feet above the ground at an average speed of 420 kts.