A 21-year-old Navy flier from Wheaton who parachuted to safety is apparently the only survivor of a crash of a U.S. Navy reconnaisance jet that plunged into the Indian Ocean Wednesday afternoon with six crew members still aboard.
The rest of the crew of the twin-engine EA-3B Skywarrior aircraft were presumed dead after rescue workers found only scattered debris from the wreckage during a 27-hour search in the crash area southeast of Diego Garcia island, 1200 miles south of the India mainland.
The search was conducted in overcast weather by a P3 Orion plane and five ships including the aircraft carrier USS Ranger from which the Skywarrior had departed on a routine training flight Wednesday morning, according to spokesmen for the Naval Airforce Pacific Fleet in San Diego.
The cause of the crash is still unknown.
The one survivor, Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Lee Huff of Wheaton, was plucked from the water by helicopters about three hours after the crash and suffered no major injuries, according to Cmdr. Michael Sherman, a public affairs officer with the Pacific fleet. Huff was recuperating yesterday from cuts and bruises aboard the Ranger.
Naval spokesmen said the jet was about 200 miles from the Ranger and one hour overdue when it crashed at 1:30 in the afternoon "in some of the deepest water in the world."
Huff parachuted from the plane and activated an emergency beeper which alerted rescue crews.
"The initial report was that he was able to parachute to safety. We don't know yet how he got out of the plane or what was wrong," Sherman said.
The Skywarrior, modified for special reconnaissance missions, was assigned to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 1 at the U.S. naval air station at Agana, Guam.