U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Alan A. Patterson, from Tullahoma, was one of three people killed in a training flight after an E/A-6B Prowler crashed into a farmland area 50 miles west-southwest of Spokane, Wash., Monday morning.
A source familiar with the crash confirmed to media in the area that there were three people onboard the aircraft, which was attached to Electronic Attack Squadron 129, the Vikings. VAQ-129 is a fleet replacement squadron that trains pilots, naval flight officers and maintainers.
The Navy was not releasing victims’ names until 24 hours after next of kin were notified. However, Lt. Cmdr. Patterson’s father, Dr. Phillip Patterson, a Tullahoma optometrist, confirmed he had been notified that his son had been killed in the crash. He was also the son of Dr. Teresa Patterson, a Tullahoma physician.
Dr. Phillip Patterson said Tuesday afternoon that details about the incident were sketchy.
While the aircraft has room for four aviators, only three were on board, the source said.
The Navy informed Congress that the wingman of the crashed plane reported that no parachutes were deployed, the Associated Press reported.
Initial calls about the incident came in around 8:45 a.m., local time Monday, the Navy said. Local emergency crews were on scene, and by noon, Navy crews were en route, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon said.
The crash occurred in a rural area between the towns of Harrington and Odessa, about 50 miles west of Spokane. Aerial views of the crash site showed a large crater in a farm field, surrounded by blackened vegetation, the Associated Press reported. Much of the plane appeared to have disintegrated on impact.
“You could see smoke and bits of plane in the middle of the field,” local resident HaLee Walter told KREM-TV after visiting the crash site.
The Prowler was “engaged in a low-level navigation training mission,” Navy officials said.
The program involves training freshly winged pilots straight from flight school, and those who have been out of the cockpit for an extended period of time, or ones who are learning to fly an entirely new type of aircraft.
It’s the second time an aircraft has been involved in a similar crash during the past year.
On April 6, 2012, an F/A-18D Hornet fighter jet crashed into a Virginia Beach, Va., apartment complex after both of its engines failed.
The student pilot and the weapons system officer onboard ejected just seconds before the plane hit the apartment building. Nobody was killed.
This is the first time a Prowler has been involved in a class A mishap — the most serious of three categories of mishaps — in just five years.
The last was on Feb. 12, 2008, when a Growler aircrew ejected in flight after an engine failed during operations near Guam.
It’s unclear if the aviators were hurt or killed. Less than a month earlier, on Jan. 21, an engine bay fire dam-aged a Prowler at Naval Air Station Atsugi, Japan.
A Class A is a mishap where there is either $2 million in damage, a fatality or a permanent total disability.
The Prowler has two Pratt and Whitney engines. It first flew in 1968 and entered operations in 1971.
It is used by the Navy and the Marine Corps. The Navy is replacing its fleet with the E/A-18G Growler, an electronic warfare version of the Super Hornet.
—From staff and wire reports (Tullahoma News staff writer Brian Justice contributed to this story)