Navy Identifies Sailors Who Died After Pair of Incidents in California

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June 6, 2022
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The Navy has released the names of two sailors killed in separate incidents — a downed fighter jet and a van crash on the highway — in southern California over the past few days.

Lt. Richard Bullock, who was assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 113, died late Friday when his F/A-18E Super Hornet jet crashed near Trona, California, about 250 miles away from Naval Air Station Lemoore, where he was based, the service said in an updated statement Sunday.

The Navy also said Sunday that 29-year-old Electronics Technician 2nd Class John Deltoro was killed in a vehicle crash while returning from training at Camp Billy Machen in Niland around 10 p.m. Friday. The crash involved Deltoro and five other sailors, who were all part of a West Coast-based Naval Special Warfare unit, according to the Navy.

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Two other sailors were in critical condition, and two were in stable condition, at local hospitals following the highway mishap.

The California Highway Patrol, which is investigating the accident along with the Navy, said the five sailors — four men and one woman — were driving a Chevrolet Express van west on a highway that leads to San Diego when “for reasons still under investigation, the Chevrolet traveled off the north side of the roadway.”

“The Chevrolet traveled down a dirt embankment and struck a large boulder,” the Highway Patrol press release said. The use of seat belts and the positions of the passengers was being investigated, but it did not appear that alcohol or drugs were factors.

Deltoro was the middle rear passenger, according to the police release. Citing privacy concerns, the Navy did not identify the other sailors involved.

“John was one of our best combat support technicians, enabling our force to conduct highly complex and high-risk missions in the nation’s defense,” Rear Adm. H.W. Howard III, head of Naval Special Warfare Command, said in a statement Sunday.

Capt. David Abernathy, commander of Naval Special Warfare Group 1, added that the unit “will remain in support of John’s family and will never forget his dedication to selfless service.”

Deltoro was an Augusta, Georgia, native and joined the Navy in 2012, according to the service. He is the second Naval Special Warfare sailor to die recently. Electronics Technician 1st Class Ryan DeKorte, 35, who was assigned to an East Coast-based Naval Special Warfare unit, died in early May “after sustaining injuries after a helicopter landing incident during joint training at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story.”

Less information was available Monday on the cause of the crash that killed Bullock, the Super Hornet pilot, who the Navy says “was flying a routine training mission at the time before his aircraft [went] down in a remote, unpopulated area” west of Death Valley National Park.

Although the Navy says no civilians were harmed as a result of this incident, it is also the fourth F/A-18 crash in the area in three years.

In August 2019, a F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 151, also based out of Lemoore, slammed into a rock wall in Rainbow Canyon in Death Valley National Park, killing its pilot and injuring some nearby tourists.

Then, in October 2020, there were two more Super Hornet crashes. The first happened on Oct. 4 when a F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 9, based at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, crashed at Death Valley. Two weeks later, on Oct. 19, another Lemoore-based Super Hornet crashed near China Lake. In both of these incidents, the pilots safely ejected.

Lemoore, according to its website, hosts “more than half” of the Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet and, on average, conducts 210,000 flights per year.

The Navy’s statement on Sunday said that the service “mourns this tragic loss” of Bullock alongside his “family, friends and shipmates.”

— Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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