The Navy has identified two aviators who were killed in a March 14 crash off Florida as Lt. Cmdr. James Brice Johnson and Lt. Caleb Nathaniel King.
“As warfighters they excelled in combat; as naval officers they exemplified the qualities of what our Navy values most dear,” said Cmdr. Kevin Robb, who leads their squadron. “I was extremely proud to have led, flown, and served with both Brice and Caleb.
“I would ask that during this trying time we all keep the families of our two heroes in our thoughts and prayers,” he added.
Both men died when their F/A-18F Super Hornet went down about a mile from the runway while on final approach to Boca Chica Field at Naval Air Station Key West. They were assigned to the “Blacklions” of Strike Fighter Squadron 213 based out of Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia.
Barbie Wilson, a professional photographer who lives in Key West, told Task & Purpose that she saw the plane explode in flight before plummeting into the water below.
“This thing went a little sideways and then I saw a fireball and then it literally just dropped out of the sky,” Wilson said in a March 14 interview.
Johnson graduated from the Air Force Academy on a personnel exchange program in 2007 and then attended Naval Aviation Schools Command in Pensacola, Florida, according to the Navy. He was piloting the Super Hornet at the time of the crash while King, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 2012, was serving as the weapons systems operator.
“The entire Blacklion Family is grieving the loss of two great Americans,” Robb said in a March 15 news release. “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.”
The cause of the crash is under investigation. The plane will remain in the water where it crashed until the Mishap Investigation Board has completed its work, according to the news release from Navy Air Force, Atlantic.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and squadron mates of these two aviators,” Rear Adm. Roy J. Kelley, commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic, said in the news release. “A full investigation will be conducted to discover the cause of this mishap.”