A Navy fighter pilot presumed dead after two jets crashed Friday over the Pacific Ocean was identified Sunday as Lt. Nathan Poloski of Lake Arrowhead.
Poloski, 26, was involved in the apparent collision of two F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson west of Wake Island. After a search, the Navy said Saturday that he was presumed dead. The pilot of the other plane was rescued.
Family members described Poloski as smart, driven and compassionate, with a love of speed, a zest for life and a knack for making personal connections wherever he went.
“Everyone was his friend and everyone thought they were his best friend, even though there were hundreds of them,” said his mother, Miriam Kendrick. In high school, for example, he once jumped in front of a football player who was picking on a smaller boy — and the football player respected that so much, he ended up befriending Poloski, Kendrick said.
Born in San Diego on Feb. 6, 1988, Poloski spent his early years living near the Miramar air station. His mother started taking him to Blue Angels air shows before he could walk, starting his lifelong enthusiasm for planes.
Poloski attended elementary school in Texas, then moved back to California, where he graduated from Lake Arrowhead’s Rim of the World High School near the top of his class, Kendrick said. She said he couldn’t decide whether to become a fighter pilot or a doctor, so he decided to do both: He attended the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 2009, and planned to attend medical school after some years in the cockpit.
His high school classmates voted him best dresser, even though not all of his fashions went over well, his mother recalled. Laughing, she described a jacket with a big fur collar that might have been appropriate in New York but earned him quite a bit of teasing in the San Bernardino Mountains. “He had another phase when he was country,” Kendrick recalled. “He went to school with the biggest belt buckle you’ve ever seen in your life.”
Poloski also embraced athletics, participating in marathons, weight training, cycling, hiking, surfing, snowboarding, skiing and mud runs, his family said. And he liked fast cars and expensive motorcycles, said his sister, 29-year-old Jacqueline Clements of Austin, Texas.
“He was a good younger brother, but in a way he almost felt like my older brother,” Clements said. Her children, ages 2 and 3, looked up to him too — literally as well as figuratively, she said. “Not a day goes by but they see a plane in the sky and they say, ‘Is that Uncle Nate?’”
A turning point in Poloski’s life came early New Year’s Day 2012, when his best friend, fellow Navy pilot David Reis, was killed in a shooting rampage that also took the life of Reis’ younger sister.
The loss “made him open his eyes to have no regrets and do what he wanted to do,” Clements said.
Last April, Poloski became a member of Strike Fighter Squadron 94, based in Lemoore, Calif.
After Friday’s crash, the search for Poloski covered more than 3,000 square miles and involved multiple ships and aircraft as well as satellite imagery, the Navy said, but his remains were not located. The search was called off Saturday.
“Nathan was an outstanding person, naval officer and aviator,” Cmdr. Michael Langbehn, commanding officer of Poloski’s squadron, said in a statement. “My personal thoughts and prayers are for his family, friends and shipmates as they endure this immeasurable loss.”
“When talking about flying, he’d say, ‘I can’t believe I get paid to do this,’” Kendrick said. “He died doing what he loved.”
The cause of his jet’s crash is under investigation.
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