Downed air crew safely at home

Three men and a woman walked off a search-and-rescue helicopter that retrieved them from Oregon Friday night just hours after they parachuted from an EA-6B Prowler aircraft.

“It was awesome,” said Whidbey Island Naval Air Station public affairs officer Kim Martin, who watched the helicopter land. She was among many Navy officials and residents relieved that the air crew made it home safely.

One of the men had a broken leg and had to be helped off the helicopter, while the others sustained only scratches, bumps and bruises.

Martin said the aircraft crashed Friday morning in a remote area of northeastern Oregon. Investigators are just beginning to piece together what happened.

Following a series of accidents in the last three months, the Navy ordered an aviation safety stand down for the entire force. All aircraft will be grounded to make time for an internal safety review.

“It’s a half-day safety stand down for each squadron no later than Friday,” Martin said, noting that the public likely won’t notice a change in the number of planes flying overhead.

It’s the first time in years that Navy officials have ordered such a stand down. The Navy reported nine accidents involving a loss of life or more than $1 million in damages in the fiscal year.

That includes the Prowler crash Friday. Two Prowler aircraft were practicing “routine section formation maneuvering,” Martin said, over the desert-like area in Umatilla County near Pendleton.

The flight crew in one of the Prowlers watched the other aircraft crash. They reported seeing four parachutes deploy fully and the crew from the downed aircraft walking on the ground afterward, Martin said.

The aircraft was attached to Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 135, which is stationed at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and aboard USS Nimitz.

Martin said the accident occurred along the low-altitude training route between Whidbey and the Boardman weapons training facility in the Columbia basin.

A helicopter left Whidbey after receiving news of the crash. By the time the helicopter arrived, the four members of the Prowler crew were at St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton. The helicopter picked them up and brought them to Whidbey.

Martin said the aviators were treated at the Navy hospital on base and released that night.

The Oregon National Guard help the Navy secure the crash site.

A team of about 36 investigators from the Whidbey base also went to the site Friday. Martin said they will probably spend about a week in Oregon before returning to Whidbey with all the pieces of the aircraft. They will reassemble the Prowler at the base in order to analyze the cause of the crash.

The names of the crew members involved in the crash have not been released. According to the Navy, the EA-6B Prowler is a four-seat long-range, all-weather jet aircraft with advanced electronic countermeasures capability.

VAQ-135, the “Black Ravens,” participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom last year from the Arabian Gulf and Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, providing critical support to ground forces in Iraq.

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