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Former Naval Academy football player Caleb King killed in fighter jet crash

Bill Wagner
Contact Reporterbwagner@capgaznews.com

Former Navy football player Lt. Caleb King was one of two aviators killed in a fighter jet crash off Key West, Florida.

King, a 2012 Naval Academy graduate, was aboard an F/A-18F Super Hornet that crashed on approach to Naval Air Station Key West on Wednesday, friends and Navy sources told The Capital. Family members have confirmed his death on social media.

Navy officials said the aircraft was on a routine training mission when the mishap occurred, but would not go into further details because a preliminary investigation was still in its early stages. In an update at 11 p.m. Thursday, officials said the F/A-18F Super Hornet is still in the water where it crashed, and will stay there until a Mishap Investigation Board conducts its investigation.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and squadron mates of these two aviators," Naval Air Force Atlantic commander Rear Adm. Roy Kelley said. "A full investigation will be conducted to discover the cause of this mishap."

One witness who lives along the aircraft’s approach path told Military.com the fighter jet may have exploded in midair. Barbie Wilson had stopped to watch the F/A-18 flying overhead when she saw what she called a “massive malfunction” in midair.

“The wings went vertical, and there was a fireball, and it just literally dropped out of the sky,” Wilson told the news outlet. An initial report from the Navy stated that both aviators ejected from the aircraft. Wilson did not see either member of the air crew eject.

Initial Navy reports following the crash said that search and rescue teams had recovered both the pilot and weapons officer after they ejected. A subsequent news release from Naval Air Forces Atlantic confirmed the terrible outcome. King was serving as the weapons systems operator, and 2007 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate Lt. Cmdr. James Brice Johnson was piloting the jet.

“We are sad to report both aviators have passed away,” Said Cmdr. Dave Hecht, spokesman for AIRLANT. “An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the mishap and per Department of Defense policy, the names of the deceased cannot be released until 24 hours after next of kin are notified.”

President Donald Trump offered his condolences via Twitter.

“Please join me with your thoughts and prayers for both aviators, their families and our incredible U.S. Navy,” President Trump tweeted.

Both the aircraft and aircrew were from the “Fighting Black Lions” of Strike Fighter Squadron 213, based out of Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“The entire Blacklion Family is grieving the loss of two great Americans. Lt. Cmdr. Johnson and Lt. King were phenomenal young men, exceptional naval aviators, and were living models of what honor, courage and commitment really mean,” said VFA-213's commanding officer, Cmdr. Kevin Robb.

Word spread quickly among former Navy football players that King was one of the aviators killed in this particular accident. Several individuals associated with Navy football posted tributes to King on social media.

King was a standout inside linebacker for the Navy football program from 2009 through 2011, appearing in 38 games over three seasons. The 6-foot, 223-pounder started four games during the 2010 season and finished with 28 tackles. He was the primary backup at both inside linebacker spots as a senior and recorded 31 tackles.

“Our hearts and deepest condolences go out to the entire King family,” said Navy head football coach Ken Niumatalolo. “We lost a dear brother and warrior. The entire Navy Football Brotherhood mourns the passing of a great American. We love you Caleb!”

King was a 2007 graduate of Warner Christian Academy in Port Orange, Florida and attended the Naval Academy Prep School. He did not see varsity action as a plebe in Annapolis before becoming a key contributor on special teams as a sophomore.

King was a varsity letterman for the 2009 Navy football team that captured the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy and finished 10-4 after beating Missouri in the Texas Bowl and the 2010 squad that went 9-4 and played in the Poinsettia Bowl.

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