KEY WEST, Fla. (NNS) -- Naval Air Station Key West is providing direct support for the response and recovery efforts following crash of a F/A-18F Super Hornet on its approach to Boca Chica Field, March 14.
An installation search and rescue helicopter was on the scene within minutes, recovering the aircrew. They were then transported to Lower Keys Medical Center where they were pronounced deceased. The Navy has identified the pilots as Lt. Cmdr. James Johnson and Lt. Caleb King of Florida. They were less than a mile east of the installation and attempting to land when the Super Hornet crashed about 4:30 p.m. The pair was assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 213 from Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia.
Casualty Assistance Calls Officers (CACOs) have been assigned by Navy Region Southeast (NRSE) and Navy Region Mid-Atlantic (NRMA) in Jacksonville, Fla., and Norfolk, Va., respectively, to assist family members during this difficult time.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with their shipmates, families and friends," said NAS Key West Commanding Officer Capt. Bobby Baker. "When we pin on our Wings of Gold we know the mission can be dangerous yet we are wholly committed to serving this great nation. In doing so, we sometimes lose our best."
On March 15, Baker issued a notice that the area surrounding the crash was off-limits to all civilians, boaters or other personal watercraft, and aircraft.
"We're asking the public not to boat near the area as the crash is under investigation and the site needs to be preserved and protected," said Baker.
Meanwhile, Carrier Air Wing EIGHT continues to train in the skies over Naval Air Station, Key West. For naval aviation, safety is the number one priority with that commitment only invigorated by the March 14 mishap. The commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic paused to pay tribute to those killed on Thursday. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and squadron mates of these two aviators. A full investigation will be conducted to discover the cause of this mishap," said Rear Adm. Roy Kelley.
"Since combat air training has resumed, it's imperative civilian aircraft remain clear of military airspace," he added.
Security forces will be maintained on scene to enforce the current restrictions and ensure a safe environment for the ongoing investigation and for the aircraft's recovery. Additionally, the installation allotted hangar space to assist the Navy's Mishap Investigation Board to work from as it conducts its review.
The installation's environmental director provided initial response and recovery efforts, including contacting the National Response Center, the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. USCG Sector Key West Spill Prevention unit is onsite to assist. Sorbent booms have been placed along the shoreline and where pockets of jet fuel exists.
"We have a great relationship with our environmental partners," said Baker. "We're working diligently to do everything we can to protect the sanctuary."
Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast has deployed a Navy on-scene coordinator to oversee emergency environmental impacts and make decisions on the best way to remediate or mitigate environmental hazards, said NAVFAC Southeast Public Affairs Officer Sue Brink.
"The goal is to restore the impact to the pre-existing condition and to coordinate the overall Navy response," Brink said. "This includes close coordination with other Navy entities, state, local and federal stakeholders and possibly outside agency contractors,"
Messages have been sent from the local community to the installation and have not gone unnoticed.
"We appreciate the outpouring of support from the community," said Baker. "Please continue to keep the families of these brave pilots in your thoughts and prayers as we do everything we can to support them through this difficult time."
NAS Key West continues to work together with Naval Air Forces Atlantic, NAVFAC Southeast, and NRSE to keep the public informed, maintain the integrity of the environment and ensure the safety of aircrew and Sailors training at Boca Chica Field.
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