Navy Searches Atlantic for 3 Missing in Plane Crash

Crews continued searching by sea and by air Friday for three aviators missing since their Navy twin-engine radar plane crashed off North Carolina's coast Wednesday night.

"Nothing has changed," said Mike Maus, a spokesman with the Norfolk-based Atlantic Fleet Naval Air Force. "The SAR [search and rescue] effort is still ongoing."

The E-2C Hawkeye turbo prop plane had just launched from the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman when it went down into the Atlantic Ocean in clear weather about 11 p.m. Wednesday.

The Norfolk-based carrier was about 150 miles southeast of the Virginia Capes, where the Atlantic and the Chesapeake Bay meet. The plane was doing carrier qualification exercises, which involves taking off and landing on a carrier deck.

The plane is from Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 120, based at Norfolk Naval Station.

The E-2C Hawkeye, distinguished by a giant radar dome mounted atop it, is used for airborne command, control and early warning. It normally carries a crew of five but a full crew is not needed for carrier qualifications.

Each aviator had survival gear, Maus said, including a vest with a flotation device that inflates automatically when it comes in contact with salt water, an emergency radio, a signal flare and a whistle. The plane also carries life rafts and parachutes.

The cause of the crash was under investigation.

The Hawkeye's comparatively low mishap record makes it one of the Navy's safest planes, said April Phillips, a spokeswoman for the Naval Safety Center in Norfolk. Since 1980, the Hawkeye has had 12 "Class A" mishaps, which involve either a fatality, total loss of the plane or at least $1 million in damage, Phillips said.

At least 14 people have died in E-2C crashes since 1990.

A Coast Guard E-2C caught fire and crashed near a U.S. naval station in Puerto Rico in 1990, killing all four men aboard.

In 1992, five crew members were killed when a Navy E-2C crashed into the Atlantic near Puerto Rico during a training flight.

In 1993, a Navy E-2C on its way back to a carrier crashed off the coast of Italy, killing all five crew members.