The Navy pilot who was killed in a crash at Death Valley National Park earlier this week has been identified as 33-year-old Lt. Charles Z. Walker, officials said.
“The NAS Lemoore aviation family is grieving the loss of one of our own,” said Capt. James Bates, commander of Strike Fighter Wing Pacific.
“Lt. Walker was an incredible naval aviator, husband and son. He was an integral member of the Vigilante family and his absence will be keenly felt on the flight line,” Bates said. “Our aviators understand the risk associated with this profession, and they knowingly accept it in service to our nation. The untimely loss of a fellow aviator and shipmate pains us all. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends.”
Walker’s F/A-18E Super Hornet jet was assigned to the “Vigilantes” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151 and based at Naval Air Station Lemoore.
The plane went down at about 10 a.m. Wednesday near an area in Rainbow Canyon, commonly referred to as Star Wars Canyon, not far from the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake.
The jet crashed during a routine training practice, but the cause of the crash remains under investigation. Investigators hope photos of the crash could provide further details.
Seven park visitors suffered minor injuries. The injured were French tourists from the same family, according to KABC-7. Most suffered nicks, cuts and burns from shrapnel. One person who was more seriously injured with burns on her back was taken to a Los Angeles-area hospital for treatment.
Search-and-rescue teams were dispatched out of China Lake and Naval Station Lemoore to search for the pilot following the crash. The Navy confirmed his death Thursday.
While it is not common for military jets to fly low over national parks, it is a standard practice in Death Valley.
“It’s one of the main attractions,” said Death Valley National Park public information officer Patrick Taylor.
The Air Force and Navy have used the area for military training practices since the early 1930s.
Most of the aircraft that pass through come from Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Naval Air Station Lemoore, Edwards Air Force Base, Fresno Air National Guard Base and Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. International jets are also known to make flybys.
Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report.