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Navy F-18 pilot, special operator killed in separate incidents in California

A Naval aviator died after a F/A-18E Super Hornet crashed near Trona, Calif. in the Mojave Desert, the Navy said. The crash happened at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, June 3 at the test range at China Lake. Neither the flight mission nor the cause of the incident have been disclosed. The name of the aviator has not yet been released by the Navy, while next of kin are contacted. Naval firefighters and security forces responded to the crash. The F-18 was based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., which is home to several fighter squadrons assigned to the Navy’s Pacific air forces, all of which operate F-18s. 

It’s the latest crash at China Lake and nearby Death Valley over the last few years. F-18s crashed in 2021, 2020 and 2019; the 2019 crash was fatal. 

In a separate incident in the southeast corner of the state, a special operator died after a traffic accident in Niland, Calif. Four others were injured in the incident, which occurred in the late morning on June 3 while the five were on their way back to San Diego from training at Camp Billy Machen. All of the sailors involved are part of Naval Special Warfare units. One operator was pronounced dead at the scene while the remaining four were taken to nearby hospitals. Camp Billy Machen is a training site for SEALs and other special forces in the Navy, focused on desert warfare. California Highway Patrol is investigating the crash.

The Niland incident is the latest death in recent months on or near a training site for a Naval special operator. A commander of SEAL Team 8 died in December 2021 at Virginia Beach. A SEAL candidate, Seaman Kyle Mullen, died in February after completing “Hell Week” training.

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