The Navy pilot killed in a crash that injured seven bystanders in California's Death Valley National Park was Lt. Charles Z. Walker, Pentagon officials said Friday.
Walker, 33, was killed on Wednesday when his F/A-18E Super Hornet crashed into a canyon wall during low-altitude training about 40 miles north of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. He was assigned to the "Vigilantes" of Strike Fighter Squadron 151, based at Naval Air Station Lemoore. Leaders said they're grieving the loss of one of their own.
"Lt. Walker was an incredible naval aviator, husband and son," Capt. James Bates, Strike Fighter Wing Pacific's commander, said in a statement. "He was an integral member of the Vigilante family and his absence will be keenly felt on this flight line."
The crash remains under investigation, according to Navy officials.
Walker was commissioned in December 2008. Before that, he was in the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Florida.
Walker was assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 195 based in Iwakuni, Japan, in 2012 following his naval aviation training. He joined VFA-151 in February 2018, and had a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, according to his personnel records.
At the time of the crash, Walker and another pilot were conducting routine training in Rainbow Canyon, a common training spot for military aviators. Dubbed "Star Wars Canyon" due to its likeness to one of the desert planets in that movie, it’s a popular site for aviation enthusiast to gather to catch sight of the low-flying maneuvers military pilots practice during training flights.
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Witnesses told the Associated Press they were taking photos when Walker's Super Hornet came into view and suddenly slammed into the canyon wall. The impact sent debris flying, and seven French tourists were injured, including one with burns requiring medical treatment, according to KABC Channel 7.
The other pilot returned to base on Wednesday and the Navy began search and rescue efforts to locate Walker. On Thursday, service officials announced that it had been determined the lieutenant was killed in the crash.
Bates said naval aviators understand the risks associated with their profession, and "knowingly accept it in service to our nation."
"The untimely loss of a fellow aviator and shipmate pains us all," he said. "Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends."