Four commanding officers at a premiere Navy weapons testing base in California have died of cancer, one of several alarming clusters in the military’s aviation community found by a McClatchy investigation.
The commanding officers served at California’s Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. They were some of the Navy’s top aviators and test pilots. Each had thousands of flight hours in advanced jets and two attended TOPGUN, the Navy’s elite Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor course. One of them, Capt. Alexander Hnarakis, was part of the inspiration for the Tom Cruise blockbuster movie.
Details about this unusual string of cancer deaths at the top tier of Navy veteran aviators were shared with McClatchy in interviews with pilots who knew them and with family members.
In recent months, members of that usually private group of both Navy and Air Force pilots have come forward to raise attention to the issue and try to answer the question: What’s causing the cancers?
At China Lake, three of the four commanding officers served back-to-back. Capt. John D. Langford, commanding officer from 1998 to 2000, died of brain cancer at age 66 in September 2015. Capt. James Seaman, commanding officer 2000 to 2002, died of lung cancer in April 2018 at age 61.
Capt. Alexander Hnarakis, commanding officer 2002 to 2004, died of thyroid cancer in May 2018 at age 62. Capt. Jeffrey Dodson, commanding officer 2009 to 2012, died of brain cancer in July 2016 at age 55.