TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – The tragic loss of five Marines in a helicopter crash in the mountains outside of San Diego, California last Tuesday was made even more heartbreaking when it was reported that one of those who perished is a Michigan native.

Traverse City-born Captain Miguel Nava, a 28-year-old U.S. Marine hailing from Kent County, Michigan and a native of Comstock Park, lost his life last week along with four fellow service members in a helicopter crash in a remote area outside San Diego.

What happened?

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 The incident occurred amidst stormy weather conditions, and Marine Corps officials confirmed the casualties on Friday. Captain Nava, a skilled CH-53E helicopter pilot, was assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, part of Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, based at the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, California. The Marines were killed while conducting routine flight training.

The webpage for the U.S. Marines at Air Station Miramar in California calls the crash a “mishap.” They say in a statement from Lt. Col. Nicholas J. Harvey, “We have been confronted with a tragedy that is every service family’s worst fear. Our top priority now is supporting the families of our fallen heroes, and we ask for your respect and understanding as they grieve. The Flying Tigers family stands strong and includes the friends and community who have supported our squadron during this challenging time. We will get through this together.”

Tributes to pilot pour in.

The news of Captain Nava’s untimely death elicited an outpouring of grief with U.S. Representative Hillary Scholten (D-Grand Rapids) expressing her condolences on the social media platform X. She shared her sorrow about the crash, stating, “Absolutely heartbroken to hear that Miguel Nava of Comstock Park was one of the Marines killed in a crash this week.”

A life of dedicated service and selflessness.

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Captain Nava’s military journey began when he was commissioned into the Marine Corps on May 26, 2017. His dedication and service were recognized with promotions and he attained the rank of captain on November 1, 2021.

Among his accolades were the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

Tony Petkus, assistant principal of Comstock Park High School, talked about Nava’s high school days with the Detroit News and said about him, “He was a tall, lanky kiddo that was trying to find his way, but he stood out right away. He was so passionate and determined. …He had such lofty aspirations that he was determined, back then and even until his passing.”

Helping others and being a leader.

 Nava excelled as a star soccer and football athlete in high school, playing in multiple championships. Beyond athletics, Captain Nava made a lasting impact as a graduate of the class of 2013. Voted as the best dresser, he actively participated in the student council and served as a mentor to younger students, showcasing his selfless nature.

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Petkus also emphasized Nava’s commitment to helping others, noting that even after graduation, he continued to engage with students, providing support in both athletic and academic pursuits.

Comstock Park Schools paid tribute to Nava in a statement saying, “There is no greater example of what it means to be a Panther than Miguel…Miguel will be remembered as an outstanding son, brother, husband, and father!”

In 2013, Nava faced with the choice of attending either the U.S. Naval Academy or Air Force Academy, Nava opted for the Naval Academy to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot.

Former U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a Cascade Charter Township Libertarian who had nominated Nava to the U.S. Naval Academy’s Class of 2017 posted on the social media platform X: “Through the application process, my congressional staff and I came to know Miguel as an outstanding student and athlete who was curious to learn and worked tirelessly to accomplish his goals.”

Amash continued, “Like me, Miguel was the child of an immigrant who came to America to start a new life. That experience fostered a keen awareness in Miguel of the incredible opportunities available to us in this country and a desire to give back. I did not know Miguel as an adult, but I am confident he was a credit to the United States Marine Corps.”

From his own words.

On his personal Facebook page in June of 2016, Nava posted about a visit he made to the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, VA for a retirement ceremony for what Nava said was for a “man who’s served this country longer than I’ve been alive.” While there, he saw the flag that was raised at Iwo Jima. Vada said that it helped him realize a few things.

Vada shared a story about the diversity of people serving in the armed services. He emphasized the importance of freedom of religion, stating that regardless of the religious background of potential adversaries, that same faith could be found among their allies. With a reassuring tone, he declared, “Whether you believe in my God or not, you have a friend in me.”

He also addressed the right to bear arms and the freedom of speech, with a respect for differing opinions and acknowledgement of the responsibilities of people who are involved in both.

An accounting of fellow servicemen who were on the helicopter and those left behind.

The four other service members who lost their lives in the tragic incident were Lance Cpl. Donovan Davis, 21, of Olathe, Kansas; Sgt. Alec Langen, 23, of Chandler, Arizona; Capt. Benjamin Moulton, 27, of Emmett, Idaho; and Capt. Jack Casey, 26, of Dover, New Hampshire. As of Friday, officials confirmed that an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash is underway, underscoring the need for answers in the wake of this devastating event.

Captain Nava is survived by his wife, Ryann, their 5-month-old son, Luca, brother Nikolas, and parents Lisa and Javier Nava. A fundraiser for the Nava family has been set up through the Travis Manion Foundation, a charity that “empowers veterans and families of fallen heroes to develop character in future generations.”

The money collected is in memory of the deceased Marine and the fundraiser has raised over $182K at the time this article was put together. The funds will go to his widow and his newborn son.