Navy ends search for 3 sailors missing after plane crash

The U.S. Navy has ceased the search for three sailors who had been missing since a cargo plane crashed in the Philippine Sea more than 36 hours earlier.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with our lost shipmates and their families," Rear Adm. Marc Dalton said in a statement released late Thursday. "As difficult as this is, we are thankful for the rapid and effective response that led to the rescue of eight of our shipmates, and I appreciate the professionalism and dedication shown by all who participated in the search efforts."

Eight sailors were rescued after the C-2A "Greyhound" transport aircraft went down about 500 nautical miles southeast of Okinawa as it was bringing passengers and cargo from Japan to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier. The rescued sailors are in good condition, but Japanese and U.S. ships and aircraft had continued searching for the others.

The Navy's 7th Fleet said details of the three missing sailors were being withheld pending completion of notification of next of kin procedures.

A former Navy C-2 pilot told Fox News Thursday that the fact that eight of the 11 people on board were rescued indicates the pilots performed a feat similar to Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who safely landed a crippled airliner in the Hudson River in 2009.

Military sources told Fox News that Navy officials are investigating several possible causes of the crash, including an extremely rare dual engine failure. Investigators are also looking at the plane's fuel and oil sources.

The Reagan was participating in a joint exercise with Japan's navy in the waters off Okinawa. The Nov. 16-26 exercise has been described by the Navy as the "premier training event" between the U.S. and Japanese navies, designed to increase defensive readiness and interoperability in air and sea operations.

The Japan-based 7th Fleet has had two fatal accidents in Asian waters this year, leaving 17 sailors dead and prompting the removal of eight top Navy officers from their posts, including the 7th Fleet commander.

The USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker collided near Singapore in August, leaving 10 U.S. sailors dead. Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided off Japan.

The Navy has concluded that the collisions were avoidable and resulted from widespread failures by the crews and commanders, who didn't quickly recognize and respond to unfolding emergencies. A Navy report recommended numerous changes to address the problems, ranging from improved training to increasing sleep and stress management for sailors.

Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.