Parts fall from Prowler

Investigators from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station have begun searching for the cause of the Nov. 26 incident in which panels from a Whidbey-based EA-6B Prowler fell to earth in Arlington.

No one was injured by the falling engine panel doors, and the radar-jamming jet’s four-person crew landed safely at Whidbey.

Two pieces fell near Arlington HIgh School and were found Wednesday. A third piece was found about a mile east in the yard of a home on Gleneagle golf course on Thanksgiving day. It was less than 100 feet from a home.

That piece was apparently a heat shield, similar to the other panels.

Electronic Attack Wing Commander, Capt. Brian Bennett, could not comment on the incident, due to the investigation which began Monday morning.

Kim Martin, Whidbey base public affairs officer, said they are considering this an isolated incident. She could not remember an incident like this occurring over Whidbey Island, where the majority of the training runs take place, but this summer a pod-shpaed pieceof electronic gear fell off a Prowler flying over the Columbia River Basin.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom a Prowler is reported to have lost a section of nose cone in a hail storm over Iraq.

More than two dozen Whidbey-based Prowlers have been grounded in the past six months due to center and outer wing panel cracks, but Wednesday’s incident did not involve any of the recognized problem parts.

Capt. Bennett has said previously that just keeping the aging Prowlers flying is one of the wing’s major challenges. For every hour of flight time the jets require 55 hours of maintenance.

The increased flight schedule due to the war on terrorism has increased the stress on the jets, which led to the earlier groundings.

The Prowlers in use at Whidbey are between 10 and 30 years old, and are not secheduled to be replaced until 2009.

The plane and the recovered parts are sequestered in a hangar at Whidbey.

Martin said the investigating team is made up of base personnel from “across the board,” including maintenance, safety and administration. The investigation is expected to take about a month.

“They will get to the bottom of this it,” Martin said.

Contact Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes

.com or call 675-6611.

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