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Dec 8, 11:21 PM EST

US Navy prepares to comb sea bed for crashed plane, sailors


TOKYO (AP) -- The U.S. Navy said it will deploy deep water salvage experts to search for a transport aircraft that crashed in the western Pacific last month, killing three sailors.

The C-2A "Greyhound" aircraft was traveling to the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan when it crashed the day before Thanksgiving in the Philippine Sea. Eight people were rescued.

The plane's last position on the surface is known but the depth of the water exceeds 16,000 feet (4,875 meters), the Navy said in a statement Saturday.

A salvage team will depart Japan aboard a contracted salvage vessel in the coming days to deploy a pinger locator to try to pick up the aircraft's emergency location signal. If successful, the Navy said that additional assets will be deployed to recover the aircraft and the fallen sailors.

The sailors were identified as Lt. Steven Combs Jr. and Airman Apprentice Bryan Grosso of Florida and Airman Matthew Chialastri of Louisiana.

One of Combs' sisters, Elizabeth Combs, said that her brother was piloting the aircraft and managed to settle it in the sea, allowing for the rescue of the eight people. The Navy called Combs' actions "heroic."

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

The Japan-based 7th Fleet has had two fatal naval accidents in Asian waters this year, leaving 17 sailors dead and prompting the removal of eight top Navy officers from their posts, including the 7th Fleet commander.

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