Local News

Rescuers Grateful To Help NC Prowler Crew Return Home Safely After Jet Crashes In Atlantic

Posted November 21, 2001 6:43 a.m. EST

— The Marines say they do not yet know why an EA-6B Prowler aircraft crashed into the Atlantic Wednesday morning, and they say it could be a year or longer before they can release that information.

The rescuers who pulled the four crew members out of the ocean after they ejected say everyone is very grateful things turned out as well as they did.

The rescue crew was training about 30 minutes away when the plane went down.

"It was such a relief to get eyes on and have the sea guy marker in sight, and at that point it kind of eased the tension," said Maj. Frank Hodges.

Rescuers found the crew about 30 miles off shore. The Marines were cold and tired, but their injuries were not serious.

"I was happy to see them all talking, able to tell me where, if they hurt anywhere. That's always a good sign. It's always really good to be able to talk to them," said medical technician Art Dornfeld.

Dornfeld says he found them "in pretty good shape, mild hypothermia, and some pain in either their neck or their back."

Due to the force of ejection, neck or back pain is common. Officials say the four did everything by the book. All four were released from the hospital and are back with the families, with just a few stitches.

"I looked in his eyes and you can just tell when you look somebody in their eyes, that they are so thankful, and that's why I'm here," said staff sergeant Christopher Vaneycken.

"If I could save a life or make a difference, make someone smile, or make somebody happy, bring them back home, that's the greatest feeing in the world," he said.

"They can go home and be thankful for the fact that we didn't lose any of our squadron mates today," said Commanding Officer Lt. Col. John Wassink.

"There'll always be that little bit of fear, but when you do this, that's just part of it, and they'll all go right back out and do it again," said Wassink.

Wassink said the planes will not be flying for the next few days because of the holiday.

"We don't know whether or not we'll be recovering the aircraft," said base spokesman Maj. James Bell. "They will have to make an assessment of whether it's cost effective to do that. One factor we will have to consider is the Prowler has sensitive electronic equipment on it."

The Marines say the Prowler has a self-destruct mode on some of the classified equipment so even if someone were to get past the guards to look at the plane, there is nothing there to be found.

The air station has four Prowler squadrons consisting of about 20 planes.

Bell said the squadron to which the jet was assigned had recently returned from duty in Turkey where it patrolled no-fly zones over Iraq during "Operation Northern Watch."

The names of the four Marines involved have not been released.

The Prowler was on a training flight when the crash occurred, between 7:30 and 8 a.m. about 30 miles south of Cape Lookout.