The identity of the Naval pilot who crashed in Death Valley National Park Wednesday morning has been released. Lieutenant Charles Z. Walker was flying a F/A-18E Super Hornet in a routine training flight, when his plane went down near Father Crowley Overlook in the park. The 33-year-old joined the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps in 2004, and was first stationed in Lemoore in 2011.
"The NAS Lemoore aviation family is grieving the loss of one of our own," said Capt. James Bates, Commander, 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. 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."
A second jet had accompanied Walker in the training and had returned safely to Lemoore.
Bates said crashes in this area are rare, and couldn’t recall the last time one happened. It's a region where pilots can practice flying low, sometimes as close as 200 feet above the ground.
Patrick Taylor, a spokesman from Death Valley National Park, confirmed that seven visitors suffered injuries from the crash that were not life-threatening.
Fighter jets and other military aircraft are common in the park; it was a military training ground in 1930, and continues to serve as such today, he said.