Two Navy Aviators Killed In F-18 Crash Off Key West

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On March 15, an F/A-18F Super Hornet crashed into the waters off Key West as it was preparing to land at Naval Air Station Key West in Florida. Tragically, two Navy aviators were killed in the accident.

On Thursday evening, the Navy identified both sailors who lost their lives the the fatal crash.

“At about 4:30 PM Eastern Time, the F/A-18F Super Hornet on a routine training flight crashed while on final approach to Boca Chica Field on Naval Air Station, Key West, Florida,” said Cmdr. Dave Hecht, spokesman for Naval Forces Atlantic. “At this time, that is all the information I have.”

An eyewitness reported seeing some kind of explosion or fire on the aircraft as it was making its final approach for landing at Boca Chica Field. The flight was part of a regular training exercise.

Both the pilot and the weapons systems operator were ejected from the aircraft when it crashed into the water almost a mile from the runway. They were retrieved by helicopter from the water and taken by ambulance to Lower Keys Medical Center. Tragically, both men lost their lives in the crash.

U.S. Navy/Released — Lt. Cmdr. James Brice Johnson, left, and Lt. Caleb Nathaniel King.

The two fallen Navy aviators from the Naval Air Station Oceana-based Strike Fighter Squadron 213 who lost their lives in the ambush are:

  • Lt. Cmdr. James Brice Johnson, a 2007 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy
  • Lt. Caleb Nathaniel King, a 2012 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy

“The entire Blacklion family is grieving the loss of two great Americans,” said Cmdr. Kevin Robb, commanding officer of the VFA-213. “Lt. Cmdr. Johnson and Lt. King were phenomenal young men, exceptional naval aviators, and were living models of what honor, courage, and commitment really mean.”

Lt. Cmdr. Johnson was piloting the F/A-18 at the time of the fatal crash, while Lt. King was serving as the weapons systems operator. Both pilots were assigned to the “Blacklions” of Strike Fighter Squadron Two One Three (VFA-213), based at Naval Air Station Oceana and assigned to Carrier Air Wing Eight.

U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Tristin English — An F-18 Super Hornet pictured in mid-flight.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and squadron mates of these two aviators,” said Rear Adm. Roy J. Kelley, Commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic. “A full investigation will be conducted to discover the cause of this mishap.”

The F/A-18 remains in the water where it crashed while the Mishap Investigation Board conducts its investigation into the cause of the crash.

“As warfighters, they excelled in combat; as naval officers, they exemplified the qualities of what our Navy values most dear. I was extremely proud to have led, flown, and served with both Brice and Caleb,” Cmdr. Kevin Robb said. “I would ask that, during this trying time, we all keep the families of our two heroes in our thoughts and prayers.”

Fair winds and following seas, Sailors.

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Jacob H. is an award-winning journalist and photojournalist who currently resides is West Michigan with his wife. In his spare time, Jacob enjoys writing, photography, mountain climbing, and camping.
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