Memorial planned for Prowler crash

Lt. William McIlvaine will be honored by a memorial listing the names of the crew who died during a training operation when an EA-6B Prowler crashed in Eastern Washington. Right, a mock up of the memorial destined for Oak Harbor.

The uncle of one of the members of the aircrew killed when an EA-6B Prowler crashed during training operations two years ago is planning a memorial in Oak Harbor.

Phelps S. McIlvaine, the director of investing at a Bellingham investment firm, initially planned to focus the memorial on the memories of the three crew members killed, but he said his ambition has grown to include all those from Whidbey Naval Air Station who have given their lives flying or servicing the Grumman A-6 and Prowler variations.

He counted 47 names on the memorial wall at the base.

“All those people were lost in training,” he said. “I don’t think any of them were lost in combat, which is an insane record.”

“The greatest danger for these guys was in training,” he added.

Phelps McIlvaine lost his brother’s only son in the March 11, 2013, crash near Odessa, Wash.

Lt. William McIlvaine III, the training officer, was only 24 years old.

The others were Lt. Valerie Delaney, 26, of Ellicott City, Md. and Lt. Cmdr. Alan Patterson, 34, of Tullahoma, Tenn. They were all members of Electronic Attack Squadron 129.

The Navy ruled that pilot error was the cause of the crash. The base made changes to the  aviation training program as a result.

Phelps McIlvaine described his nephew as one of those rare individuals who seemed to excel at everything he touched.

“He was a kid who thought learning to read and write Arabic while playing the bagpipes in high school while taking on a full load would be an interesting thing to do,” he said.

McIlvaine graduated from Deerfield Academy, a highly selection boarding school in Massachusetts. At graduation, a helicopter swooped in and King Abdullah II of Jordan, a fellow alumnus, awarded him an inaugural prize for International Studies, his uncle explained.

McIlvaine graduated from the Naval Academy in 2010.

Phelps McIlvaine said he got to know the other families following the tragedy and found that they were equally amazing people.

“They were the best of the best,” he said. “Their stories should not float away, but should be preserved.”

Phelps McIlvaine said he was inspired by the Herndon Memorial on the lawn in front of the church at the U.S. Naval Academy.

He plans to erect a similar granite obelisk in Oak Harbor that would have engravings on four sides; it would commemorate the three victims, but also the Navy, the Marines, the men and women of the Odessa community and the Fairchild Air Force Base.

He’s started a nonprofit group called the Prowler Memorial Fund and is raising money for the monument. He’s donated $10,000 to the project.

Phelps McIlvaine said he’s contacted the Oak Harbor Parks Department and found officials there to be very receptive. He said they suggested that a site along the waterfront trail might be appropriate.

Hank Nydam, parks director, confirmed that the city is looking at a site on Pioneer Way near the intersection with Pasek Street.

Nydam said the city is working with Phelps McIlvaine on the process outlined in the city’s “gift catalog.” The proposal will ultimately have to go before the City Council, he said.

In addition, Phelps McIlvaine plans to have the memorial engraved with codes that people can scan with their smart phones. They will bring up websites relevant to the memorial, such as pages dedicated to the life of crew member.

Those who are interested in helping can donate to the Prowler Memorial Fund at Peoples Bank. Or they can contact Phelps McIlvaine at