U.S. Navy pilot killed in California crash was 33-year-old lieutenant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The fighter pilot who perished in the crash of his fighter jet in Death Valley National Park in California was identified by the U.S. Navy on Friday as Lieutenant Charles Walker, who had served in the armed forces for the past 10 years.

The 33-year-old Navy aviator was killed when his F/A-18E Super Hornet, a single-seat aircraft, went down on Wednesday during low-altitude training exercises in the Rainbow Canyon area of the park, about 130 miles (210 km) west of Las Vegas.

His death was confirmed by the Navy the following day.

Walker was commissioned as a Navy ensign in 2008 and achieved the rank of lieutenant in January 2013, according to Lieutenant Commander Lydia Bock, a spokeswoman for his home base, U.S. Naval Air Station Lemoore, north of Los Angeles.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation, she said.

Seven national park visitors from France who had stopped at a vista point overlooking the canyon near the crash scene suffered relatively minor burns and lacerations from shrapnel, park officials said.

The crash vicinity has been nicknamed “Star Wars Canyon” because military pilots are known for swiftly maneuvering their planes through its high-walled cliffs the way that fictional X-Wing starfighters flew through deep corridors of the enemy Death Star in the original “Star Wars” movie.

Walker was assigned to the “Vigilantes” of Strike Fighter Squadron 151 at Lemoore. Official Navy records did not list a home town.

Rainbow Canyon, which lies along the western border of Death Valley in southeastern California near the Nevada border, is part of a larger corridor that has been used for military flight training since the 1930s.

Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman