Killed were 34-year-old Lt. Cmdr. Alan Patterson from Tullahoma, Tenn.; 26-year-old Lt. Junior Grade Valerie Delaney from Ellicott City, Md., and 24-year-old Lt. Junior Grade William Brown McIlvaine III of El Paso, Texas.
The twin-engine E/A-6B Prowler crashed Monday morning in a farm field about 50 miles west of Spokane. Photos of the crater show the plane apparently disintegrated on impact, killing everyone aboard.
The Navy said the plane was engaged in low-level training exercises when the crash occurred. The cause is under investigation.
"Quite often these investigations take several weeks before we get an answer," said Stephens, a spokesman for Naval Air Forces in San Diego.
The remains of the three fliers were to be removed Tuesday by a forensics team from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, officials said.
Planes from Whidbey Island are a common sight across much of Eastern Washington farm country.
Nancy Timm told The Spokesman-Review newspaper she was in her garage Monday morning when she heard what she thought was a plane flying low overhead. Soon thereafter, she heard a boom, then went out and saw smoke rising from the crash site in Lincoln County about 10 miles from the town of Harrington.
Karen Carlson, who also lives near the crash site, told the newspaper she was talking on the phone when she heard what she thought was a sonic boom.
"Then the whole house just shook," she said of the jet's impact.
Whidbey Island is the home of the Navy's tactical electronic squadrons that fly the Prowler and similar aircraft.
The Prowler that crashed was assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron 129, known as the Vikings. It is the Navy squadron charged with training all Navy and Marine Corps aviators assigned to fly Prowlers.
The E/A-6B has served as the primary electronics warfare aircraft for the Navy since its introduction in 1970. Its primary mission is to provide "protection for strike aircraft, ground troops and ships by jamming enemy radar, electronic data links and communications," according to the Navy.
While no Prowlers have ever been lost in combat operations, several have been lost in peacetime accidents.
A memorial was dedicated at NAS Whidbey Island in 1998 to 44 aircrew lost in EA-6B Prowler accidents. The last two mishaps involving loss of life in Prowlers happened that same year.
In February 1998, a Marine Prowler clipped the cable of a gondola in Italy, killing 20 civilians when the gondola plunged to the ground. That plane was able to return to base. In November 1998, a Prowler collided with another plane during night landing operations aboard the USS Enterprise off the coast of Virginia. All four crewmen aboard the Prowler died.