Navy identifies 2 aviators killed in F/A-18 jet crash off Key West

The U.S. Navy has identified the two aviators who died Wednesday after their F/A-18F Super Hornet jet crashed off the coast of Key West, Fla.

The aviators have been identified as Lt. Cmdr. James Brice Johnson and Lt. Caleb Nathaniel King, who served in the “Blacklions” of Strike Fighter Squadron Two One Three (VFA-213), the Naval Air Force Atlantic said in a news release Thursday.

“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.

In this March 14, 2018 photo, U.S. Navy personnel respond to a F/A-18 Super Hornet that crashed on its approach to Naval 
Air Station Key West in Florida. Both the pilot and weapons system officer ejected and were recovered, but U.S. Naval Air Forces reported late Wednesday night that both had died. (Rob O'Neal/The Key West Citizen via AP)

U.S. Navy personnel responded to the F/A-18 Super Hornet that crashed on its approach to Naval Air Station Key West in Florida on Wednesday.  (Rob O'Neal/The Key West Citizen via AP)

Johnson was piloting the jet, while King served as the weapons systems operator, the Navy said.

King also played inside linebacker for the football team at the U.S. Naval Academy from 2009 to 2011, appearing in 38 games, the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Md., reported.

Upon their final approach to Boca Chica Field at Naval Air Station Key West, the aviators ejected from the twin-engine jet, which crashed around 4:30 p.m. A source told Fox News that the jet was flying back on one engine when it lost the other at low altitude.

"As warfighters they excelled in combat, as Naval Officers they exemplified the qualities of what our Navy values most dear,” Robb said. “I was extremely proud to have led, flown, and served with both Brice and Caleb.”

"As warfighters they excelled in combat, as Naval Officers they exemplified the qualities of what our Navy values most dear. I was extremely proud to have led, flown, and served with both Brice and Caleb."

- U.S. Navy Cmdr. Kevin Robb, VFA-213’s commanding officer

Johnson graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2007 while King graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2012. They were both Florida residents based at Naval Air Station Oceana and assigned to Carrier Air Wing Eight.

According to the Navy’s statement, the Super Hornet remains in the water at the crash site while a Mishap Investigation Board continues its investigation.

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

Fox News' Nicole Darrah and Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report.