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Engine Stalls Reported in 2 Navy Plane Crashes

Times Staff Writer

The Navy on Tuesday was investigating two separate plane crashes amid reports that engine stalls may have brought down both an EA-6B electronic warfare jet and an F-14 Tomcat fighter on Monday.

The EA-6B Prowler was taking off from North Island Naval Air Station at 5:30 p.m. when it crashed and exploded just short of the ocean, killing two of the three crewmen on board. The Navy on Tuesday identified the dead crewmen as Lt. John A Zibel, 31, of Coal Center, Pa., the plane’s pilot, and Lt. (j.g.) Kevin J. Leslie, 27, of Beverly, Mass., an electronic countermeasures officer.

The third crewman, Lt. Cmdr. Chauncy L. Mitchell, 35, of Beaumont, Tex., another electronic countermeasures officer, was listed in good condition Tuesday at Balboa Navy Hospital.

Both fliers aboard the F-14 ejected safely before their jet crashed into the ocean near San Clemente Island.

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On Training Mission

The EA-6B Prowler had arrived on North Island after 10 a.m. Monday on a training mission from the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington state and was lifting off for home base when it crashed, said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Elliott, a Navy spokesman at Whidbey Island.

Navy officials were aware of published eyewitness reports of power loss in the Prowler’s engines, but could not confirm them, according to Lt. Cmdr. Bob Pritchard, a Navy spokesman in San Diego. The Navy has not yet determined the cause of the crash, and investigators planned to interview Mitchell in his hospital room, Pritchard said. Pritchard said he did not know if the interview had taken place.

The plane’s full fuel load may have contributed to its destruction, Pritchard suggested. The jet fell to the ground, skidded through a small storage shed, then exploded in flames, according to Navy officials.

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Seasoned Veterans

Zibel and Mitchell were instructors in the VAQ 129 Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron, which trains all Navy Prowler crews, according to Elliott. Both were seasoned veterans of the EA-6B, and Leslie was a trainee, Elliott said.

The Navy operates about 60 EA-6B Prowlers, almost all of them from the Whidbey Island base, according to Elliott. He declined to provide a complete safety record of the aircraft Tuesday, but said there have been at least 19 EA-6B crashes since 1980.

In the other accident, two F-14 Tomcat crewmen chose to eject when their jet’s engines stalled and they lost control of the plane while on a training flight, said Chief Petty Officer Bobbie Carleton, a Miramar Naval Air Station spokeswoman. The pilot, Lt. Stephen Molter, 28, of Chapel Hill, N.C., and radar intercept officer Lt. Daniel Crisp, 27, of London, Ohio, were both picked up by a small boat and transported to the mainland in good condition, Navy officials said.

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The F-14 crashed into the ocean and sank 6 miles east of San Clemente Island, Carleton said. The crew from the VF 51 Squadron had been practicing a simulated aircraft carrier landings on San Clemente Island, according to Carleton. It was the third crash of a Miramar-based F-14 since December, and 101st nationwide since the fighter was introduced into service in 1972, she said.


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