United States Navy

Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 135

EA-6B Prowler


24th February 1996

USS Kitty Hawk
Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington state

                               ROTC Alumni





Lt. Thomas R. Francis




Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 135

USS Kitty Hawk


                                  photo via Bob Francis



Lt. Thomas R. Francis





Lieutenant Thomas R. Francis was killed in the line of duty when the Grumman EA-6B Prowler he was piloting crashed into the ocean during a training exercise. Lt. Cmdr. James M. Dee was also killed. The other two crew managed to safely eject and were recovered safely.

pilot, Lt. Thomas R. Francis - Missing - Presumed dead Lt. Cmdr. James M. Dee killed Lt. Charles E. Luttrell ejected Lt. Derrick J. Busse ejected

Details and photos provided by Lt. Thomas R. Francis' father, Robert Francis
Further information from Public Domain sources


DATE: Sunday, February 25, 1996


Even as the Navy was in the midst of a three-day safety ``stand-down'' for its fleet of F-14 fighters, a warplane of a different kind crashed into the Pacific Ocean, leaving one crewman dead, two injured and another missing.

The crash of the EA-6B Prowler occurred at 12:05 p.m., 150 miles off the Southern California coast.

The plane was part of Carrier Air Wing 11 aboard the San Diego-based aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. The plane's squadron is based at Whidbey Island, Wash., but was at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego for training.  All EA-6B Prowlers are based on the West Coast.

Two crewman were rescued by helicopter about 40 miles from the carrier and were examined aboard the ship. Their conditions were not immediately known. A fourth was still missing, Navy Cmdr. Gregg Hartung said. There was no immediate word on the cause of the crash.

The names of the crew members were being withheld pending notification of relatives.

On Thursday, the Navy, reacting to three recent crashes of Miramar-based F-14 Tomcats, ordered all F-14s grounded for three days so that crew members could review safety procedures and investigators could search for links between the crashes. That order was to end today

Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.


Monday, February 26, 1996


The carrier Kitty Hawk steamed back to port Sunday under a Pacific Fleet stand-down ordered after one of its radar-jamming jets crashed into the ocean during a training exercise.

Saturday's crash, the eighth involving a Navy aircraft in two months, left a crew member dead, two injured and fourth lost at sea.

``Losing this many people is certainly not normal,'' said Cmdr. Gregg Hartung, spokesman for Commander Naval Air Force U.S. Pacific Fleet. ``The thread that we see here is that in many of these recent actions, our crews have made the decision either too late or not at all to eject from an aircraft that's too damaged to be saved.''

The EA-6B ``Prowler'' was 40 miles from the Kitty Hawk when it plunged into the sea 150 miles from San Diego. The cause of the crash remains under investigation.

The Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington state, where the squadron was based, identified the dead crewman as Lt. Cmdr. James M. Dee, 35, of New York City. The pilot, Lt. Thomas R. Francis, 26, of Fountain Valley, Calif., was missing and presumed dead.

Lt. Charles E. Luttrell, 35, of Oak Harbor, Wash., was in stable condition and Lt. Derrick J. Busse, 29, of Escondido, was in good condition.

Pacific Fleet Vice Adm. Brent M. Bennitt ordered a two-day stand-down for all 1,600 aircraft stationed at 79 squadrons on the West Coast, Hawaii, Guam and Japan. The aircraft were ordered to undergo 48-hour safety tests.

Squadrons will review safety issues, practice in simulators and review maintenance records. The tests will include reviews of ejection operations and air crew training.

The Prowler crash came six days after an F-14D crashed off the San Diego coast, killing two crew members during exercises involving the carrier Carl Vinson.

That crash was one of 32 in the last five years involving F-14s and prompted the Navy to ground its entire fleet of F-14s through Feb. 25. Each of the last three F-14s to crash was based at Miramar.

Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.


page last updated
Thursday, 25 October 2007 18:01