HARRINGTON, Wash – It's been a tough few days for the entire military community, after a Navy EA-6B Prowler crashed into a wheat field outside of Harrington Monday morning, killing all three people aboard.
"The fella driving tractor pointed up and said, ‘What's that?'" recalled Mike Johnson, who was feeding cows in Davenport, some 23 miles away, when the plane went down. "There was a big ol' mushroom cloud coming up."
In the day since the crash, a mini city of sorts has been set up at the site. Almost 100 people, mostly from Fairchild Air Force Base in Airway Heights, have made the trip to Lincoln County to help secure the site and aid in the ground search. Rows of trucks and tents are now visible on the horizon, as some military personnel are staying on site 24 hours a day.
"Essentially what we do is walk a grid pattern around the area, walking shoulder by shoulder," explained Patrick Obruba, the Civil Engineering Squadron Commander at Fairchild.
The first priority is to recover the remains of those aboard, then searchers will retrace their steps to map the debris field with GPS – an area that spreads out for half a mile.
"We understand there was an explosion upon impact, and that's based on reports," Lincoln County Sheriff Wade Majers said Monday.
In the hours after the crash, Navy investigators from Whidbey Island, where the training flight originated from, flew in on two helicopters to help.
Military personnel will be on site for most of the week clearing the wreckage left behind. A representative from Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware was expected Tuesday afternoon to help facilitate the dignified transfer of those lost.
"What we're doing is making sure we're honoring fallen service members for their service to the country and we're doing that in a very dignified and methodical fashion," Obruba added.
There's still no word on what may have caused the crash. Part of the investigation will involve speaking with the crew members aboard the second ‘wingman' plane that could only circle when they saw their own friends go down.