The Whidbey Island community is mourning the loss of three crew members aboard a Whidbey Island Naval Air Station EA-6B Prowler who were killed Monday when the aircraft crashed in Eastern Washington.
They were identified Tuesday evening as Lt. Valerie Delaney, 26, of Ellicott City, Md., Lt. William McIlvaine III, 24, of El Paso, Texas and Lt. Cmdr. Alan Patterson, 34, of Tullahoma, Tenn.
The Prowler crashed during routine training 50 miles west of Spokane.
The aircraft was assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron 129.
“I understand they were training out there,” said Mike Welding, public affairs officer for the Naval Air Station. “We have training routes in Eastern Washington and Oregon.”
The community quickly rallied in support of the fallen airmen, organizing a candlelight vigil Monday evening.
More than 100 people attended.
“It’s hard. These families are going through hell,” resident Andy Mahoney said during a prayer he offered. “They’re going to need their community to rally around them.”
Matt Oliver, minister at Oak Harbor Church of Christ, also offered a prayer.
“I give thanks for being of a community that would lift these folks up to you,” he said.
Capt. Mike Nortier, the commanding officer of NAS Whidbey Island, released a statement thanking the community for the outpouring of support.
“This is a time for reflection and understanding,” he said. “These young aviators selflessly served their nation and its citizens. They were truly among our nation’s best and brightest. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their friends, fellow squadron members and especially their families.”
While the community grieves, Navy investigators are looking into the cause of the accident.
Lt. Aaron V. Kakiel, a public affairs officer, said there’s an automatic safety investigation, plus the squadron commanded may ask for a parallel “JAG manual investigation.”
He said the safety investigation will likely take a couple of months. He said it won’t be made public.
“It’s about what happened and what he can learn from it,” he said. “It’s not about assigning blame.”