Fallen F/A-18 pilot named

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Fallen  F/A-18  pilot  namedAfter the News Review went to press with our most recent edition, the Navy announced that the identity of the F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot killed in Rainbow Canyon was Lt. Charles Zachary Walker of the Strike Fighter Squadron “Vigilantes” in Lemoore.

Walker was apparently conducting a routine flight on July 31 through an area, colloquially known as “Star Wars Canyon,” near Father Crowley Vista Point in Saline Valley. Officials are still investigating the cause of the crash.

“The Naval Air Station Lemoore aviation family is grieving the loss of one of our own,” said Capt. James Bates, commander of Strike Fighter Wing Pacific, said in a statement published by the Navy Times.

“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 this 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.”

Walker had served various commands at Lemoore since May 2015. Other duty and training stations took him to Japan, North Island and Corpus Christi, among others. He studied at the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., and the Naval Aviation School of Pensacola, Fla.

Death Valley National Park sits under the R-2508 Complex, a protected airspace used for military training since the 1930s. In recent years, the Super Hornets flying through Rainbow Canyon have attracted thousands of visitors each year.

An estimate seven civilians sustained flash burns following last week’s crash at Crowley Vista. The parking area has since been closed to all but emergency responders. Park rangers also issued an advisory that traffic on Highway 190 may be delayed for an unknown length of time.

“The public is requested to avoid stopping in the area to allow emergency responders to work safely,” said Patrick Taylor of the National Park Service.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the pilot,” said DVNP Superintendent Mike Reynolds. “Death Valley is proud of our unique role as a training ground for the military, and we mourn the loss of the brave pilot. We’re also relieved that the injuries to the seven bystanders were not more severe.”

Public affairs officers from the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division and Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake said they were prohibited from commenting on the incident.

Pictured: Charles Z. Walker

Story First Published: 2019-08-09