A military judge hearing the case climbed aboard a plane Thursday that was similar to the one that caused the fatal accident. Lt. Col. Ronald Rodgers put on a flight suit and climbed into the rear cockpit of an EA-6B Prowler at Cherry Point Air Station to see what airmen in the rear seats can see.
Defense witnesses had claimed that back-seat crewmen weren't responsible for the flight path or speed of the jet.
Rodgers will recommend whether to call a court-martial on manslaughter charges against crewmen Capt. Chandler Seagraves, 28, of Nineveh, Ind., and Capt. William Raney II, 26, of Englewood, Colo.
Testimony was to wrap up Friday.
Prosecutors said that the rear-seat crew knew the jet was flying too low and too fast and should have called a halt to the flight. They contend the aviators are just as culpable as the pilot and navigator because part of their jobs included serving as lookouts.
But, back in court, defense witnesses said the men had no way of controlling the plane. There is no physical or visual contact between the jet's front and back compartments.
"He had no more control over that airplane going over that mountain and the altitude than you did sitting here in North Carolina," Capt. Marcus Moore, a pilot, told the judge.
"When you're in the back seat, you'll get all your cues from the front seat," said Maj. Gary Slyman, the executive officer of the jet's squadron. "They'll tell you what altitude you're at. I can't jump in the back seat and say, `that's 1,500 feet' or `that's 800 feet.'"
A prosecution witness has testified the jet was flying under 500 feet, despite a 1,000-foot altitude limit, for more than six miles before it hit the lift cable. Evidence showed the plane was going about 540 knots, instead of the recommended 420 knots.
But Moore said the rear-seat fliers, called electronic countermeasures officers, had no control over speed and he never heard one complain about going too fast.
"Speed is not a back-seater's job," he said.
Another hearing will be held next month for the jet's pilot, Capt. Richard Ashby, 30, of Mission Viejo, Calif., and the navigator, Capt. Joseph Schweitzer, 30, of Westbury, N.Y.
Each crewman is charged with 20 counts each of involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, destroying private and government property, and dereliction of duty. Each faces life in prison if convicted.