A U.S. Navy single-seat F/A-18E fighter jet crashed on Wednesday in Death Valley, California, according to the Navy.
On Friday, the pilot was identified as 33-year-old Navy Lt. Charles Z. Walker. He was killed and seven individuals on the ground suffered minor injuries, a spokesperson for Death Valley National Park said.
"The pilot of the F/A-18E Super Hornet that crashed approximately 40 miles north of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif. on July 31 has been identified. The Super Hornet, assigned to the ‘Vigilantes’ of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151 based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore, California, was flown by Lt. Charles Z. Walker, 33," said Joint Strike Fighter Wing public affairs officer, Lt. Cmdr. Lydia Bock on Friday.
The cause of the crash is currently under investigation.
"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 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.”
The pilot was on a routine training mission in the area at the time of the crash, Block said.
Tim Cassell, owner of the Panamint Springs Resort nearby, said he got in his truck and drove up to the crash site.
"I stopped my vehicle, got out and walked over to the edge and attempted to see if I could see any large pieces of the aircraft," Cassell said. "I was unable to see anything other than a large blackened area, some of the bushes were still on fire. And there was smoke and then debris all over the ground around me."
"The pieces of the aircraft were smaller than a dinner plate ... and scattered over a large area," he added.
Patrick Taylor, a spokesperson for Death Valley National Park, said the park received a report around 10 a.m. PT from the Panamint Springs Resort that a military plane had crashed on the west side of Death Valley near Father Crowley Overlook in an area known as Star Wars Canyon.
The area has been used for military training flights since the 1930s, Taylor said, and regularly attracts tourists who want to get a glimpse of military pilots in action weaving through the narrow canyon in maneuvers reminiscent of the Star Wars movie.
Seven individuals on ground sustained burns, cuts and scrapes from shrapnel flying through the air when the jet crashed, according to KABC. The injuries were mostly to their backs, arms and legs as they ran away from the crash site, about 50 meters from where they were standing.
The Father Crowley Overlook was temporarily closed. Emergency responders from the park, military and Inyo County were dispatched to the scene.