NORFOLK, Va. (AP) -Three aviators on a twin-engine radar plane that crashed off North Carolina’s coast have died, the Navy said Friday.

Search crews found debris from the E-2C Hawkeye turbo prop plane but no bodies, said Mike Maus, a spokesman with the Norfolk-based Atlantic Fleet Naval Air Force.

“The search has been terminated,” Maus said. The aviators were declared dead, he said.

The Navy identified those aboard as Lt. Cameron N. Hall, 30, of Natchitoches, La.; Lt. Ryan K. Betton, 31, of Collinsville, Va.; and Lt. j.g. Jerry R. Smith, 25, of Greenville, Maine.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation.

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.

Hall was a naval flight officer and instructor with the squadron since April 2006, the Navy said.

Betton was a pilot who had been an instructor since 2005.

Smith was a pilot who had been a student since June 2006.

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 Hawkeye is 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, she said.

At least 14 other 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.



AP news researcher Julie Reed in New York contributed to this report.



On the Net:

E-2 Hawkeye: http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact-display.asp?cid1100&tid700&ct1

Squadron’s Web site: http://www.vaw120.navy.mil/

USS Harry S. Truman: http://www.navybuddies.com/cvn/cvn75.html

AP-ES-08-17-07 1923EDT


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