Image: A Navy E-2C Hawkeye
Markus Schreiber  /  AP
An E-2C Hawkeye, similar to the one pictured, crashed off the coast of North Carolina late Wednesday.
updated 8/17/2007 7:37:06 PM ET 2007-08-17T23:37:06

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.

Further details, including the names of the aviators, were not immediately released. The cause of the crash remained under investigation.

The E-2C Hawkeye turboprop 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. Navy and Coast Guard crews halted their search Friday morning, Maus said.

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.

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 saltwater, an emergency radio, a signal flare and a whistle. The plane also carries life rafts and parachutes.

Good record of safety
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.

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