VIRGINIA BEACH — Aviators assigned to the Strike Fighter Squadron 213 returned to Naval Air Station Oceana on Thursday, a little more than a week after pilot Lt. Cmdr. James Brice Johnson and weapons systems officer Lt. Caleb Nathaniel King died in a training mishap off Key West.
VFA-213, known as the Blacklions, was training in Florida when Johnson and King’s F/A-18 Super Hornet crashed about a mile from Naval Air Station Key West. Witnesses described seeing the aircraft explode in a fireball and fall from the sky. The Navy is investigating.
Cmdr. Kevin Robb, the squadron’s commanding officer, said Johnson and King “served with humility, toughness and a genuine care for the sailors in their stead.”
“Our entire command mourns the loss of these two patriots, a feeling we know we share with our brothers and systems in the profession of arms, our community here in Virginia Beach and in homes and families all across our great nation,” Robb said.
King, whose call sign was “She-ra,” was a 2012 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where he also was a linebacker for the Midshipmen, according to the Navy. The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that King’s squadron nickname became “Juggernaut” after he had to be measured to make sure he could fit in the cockpit because of his imposing size. King, 30, deployed aboard the Norfolk-based USS George H.W. Bush in January 2017 and returned in August.
He is survived by his wife, Victoria, and a 15-month-old daughter, the newspaper said.
Johnson, whose call sign was “Drama,” according to an obituary in The Virginian-Pilot, was a 2007 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He became a weapons systems officer and twice deployed aboard the West Coast-based aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson with VFA-22 before being selected for pilot training. He returned from his third deployment, also on the Bush, in August.
Johnson is survived by his wife, Mary Asher ‘Mash’ Johnson, whom he met at the Air Force Academy; his parents; and a sister. He will be “remembered for his infectious laugh and huge grin,” his obituary said.
Funeral services are planned for Johnson in Virginia Beach on Friday with a missing man formation flyover planned at the Oceanfront. A funeral for King is scheduled Saturday in Daytona Beach, Fla., Naval Air Force Atlantic spokesman Cmdr. Dave Hecht said. Both funerals are closed to the public.
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