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SPOKANE, WASH. — Pilot error caused a training jet to crash into an Eastern Washington farm field last March, killing all three crew members aboard, the Navy said Tuesday.
The EA-6B Prowler was based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in northwest Washington.
A detailed review of the crash was released by the Navy’s Pacific Fleet headquarters in San Diego, the Spokesman-Review reported.
Officials reviewed training records as well as reports from the crew of a Navy jet that accompanied the Prowler.
Among several findings, the review concluded that the flight’s instructor, Lt. Cmdr. Alan A. Patterson, 34, from Tullahoma, Tenn., had been placed into “unnecessarily accelerated training,” and the other two flight officers were not fully prepared for the challenging, low-altitude mission they were flying.
Whidbey Island-based Navy and Marine crews typically fly at low altitudes over portions of Eastern Washington.
Also killed on March 11, 2013, were pilot Lt. Valerie Delaney, 26, from Ellicott City, Md., and flight officer Lt. William Brown McIlvaine III, 24, of El Paso, Texas.
Several factors undermined the “normally sufficient risk controls that did exist for this flight,” the report said.
Those factors included Patterson’s accelerated training and his assignment as an instructor on the flight. Another factor listed was “the failure to recognize and-or act on the marginal capability demonstrated by Lt. Delaney” in the low-altitude setting.
“As stated in the investigation, all three aviators were technically qualified for the event,” the report said. “However, when this crew was placed together in the low-altitude regime, their combined proficiency left them little margin for error.”
The summary of the nearly 400-page report and suggested responses noted that the Whidbey Island training program had not had a fatal crash in the previous 40 years.
However, “low altitude formation flying is a hazardous mission and is among the higher risk events” Prowler crews encounter, it said.