3 people were killed in a Navy contract plane crash off the coast of California

Three people aboard a U.S. Navy contract aircraft were killed Wednesday when it crashed during a training exercise near San Clemente Island, officials said Friday.

The three men, Eric Tatman, Spencer Girlings and Shane Garner, were from Georgia and worked for Phoenix Air Group, which owned and operated the Learjet that crashed near the Navy-owned island, according to officials. Tatman was a captain, Girlings a first officer and Garner a systems specialist, said Phoenix Air, an air charter company based in Cartersville, Calif., that provides services to private groups and government agencies.

“The entire Phoenix Air family mourns the loss of our friends and colleagues and supports the families of our fallen colleagues,” the company said in a statement.

Two Learjets, owned and operated by Phoenix Air, took part in a naval exercise on Wednesday, the company said in a statement. The planes were in a military restricted area as part of a series of “carefully planned” flights related to naval readiness, the statement said.

The Learjet carrying the three men crashed into the Pacific Ocean at about 7:55 a.m., U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Levi Reed said. The other plane landed safely but immediately began searching the waters, the Coast Guard said.

Officials arrived at 8:55 a.m. to find a debris field about a mile southwest of San Clemente Island.

Officials said the plane took off from Naval Air Station Mugu and lost contact with air traffic controllers about a mile from the island.

Navy, Air Force and US Customs and Border Protection personnel searched 334 square miles of the crash site, but found no one in the wreckage. The Coast Guard issued a statement.

Search and rescue operations were suspended on Thursday.

“Suspending a search is one of the most difficult decisions, but after more than 24 hours of aggressively searching the area around San Clemente Island using land, air and surface assets with negative results, the decision has been made to suspend the active search pending further information or developments,” it said. said Coast Guard Capt. Jim Spitler in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the missing passengers.”

Authorities said the bodies of the victims have not been recovered. No other Phoenix Air employees or aircraft were involved, the company said.

It National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration and the US Department of Defense are investigating the cause of the crash. Phoenix Air said it is cooperating with the investigation.

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