A 26-year-old Naval Academy graduate from Howard County who realized a long-held dream of becoming a Naval aviator was killed when the jet she was piloting crashed into a field outside Spokane, Wash.
Lt. j.g. Valerie Cappelaere Delaney and her two crew members died Monday morning when the EA-6B Prowler crashed during training, the Navy said Tuesday. The incident remains under investigation.
Friends and family described Cappelaere Delaney as a focused, athletic and caring young woman whose career was shaped by conversations with her grandfather, a retired Air Force pilot. She died doing a job she had pursued relentlessly, those close to her said, and that she loved.
"Anything Valerie did she put her whole self into," said her mother, Doreen Cappelaere, who lives in Ellicott City. "I've always been proud of all of my children. They've each done what they've wanted to do with their lives."
Cappelaere Delaney served with the Electronic Attack Squadron VAQ-129, a training group based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington State. The EA-6B Prowler, designed by Northrop Grumman, is primarily used for jamming enemy radar and radio communications.
Also killed in the crash were flight officers Lt. j.g. William Brown McIlvaine III, 24, of El Paso, Texas, and Lt. Cmdr. Alan A. Patterson, 34, of Tullahoma, Tenn.
Cappelaere Delaney's husband, Sean Delaney, a fellow Maryland native, academy graduate and Navy pilot, is also stationed at Whidbey.
Cappelaere Delaney didn't make it into the academy after she graduated from Centennial High School 2004, despite good grades and effort on the lacrosse and soccer fields that opened doors to other schools. But she was determined to study engineering in Annapolis. She took a year of preparatory studies at a private school in Massachusetts, excelled there and won a place at the academy the following year.
John S. Craighill, a 1967 academy graduate who lives in Annapolis, advised Cappelaere Delaney as she considered applying to the school. Craighill, who wrote a recommendation for her and stayed in touch as her career took off, said Cappelaere Delaney was among the first in her class to get her wings.
"It didn't take long to figure out that Valerie was certainly a brilliant, smart, sharp, focused young lady — and this is while she was in high school," said Craighill, a retired Navy captain. "Everybody is hurting now."
An avid athlete, Cappelaere Delaney lettered in lacrosse and soccer at Centennial, and helped the soccer team win a state championship in 2001. She played lacrosse at the academy.
Cindy Timchal, head coach of the academy's women's lacrosse program, called Cappelaere Delaney a key player in the team's transition from club level to varsity. "We will always remember her strength of character and her passion as a lacrosse player," Timchal said.
Cappelaere Delaney also loved to sing, and was a member of the academy's a cappella group, the Stowaways.
Her mother remembers her picking up a microphone at a family reunion when she was 7 or 8 years old and "just belting out the Star Spangled Banner, word for word — nobody could believe it was coming from her."
Cappelaere Delaney was the middle daughter of three born to Patrice and Doreen Cappelaere.
Though she and her husband grew up 30 miles apart in Maryland and were classmates at the academy, they didn't meet until coming home one year from their summer cruises. The couple married at the Naval Academy Chapel last year and celebrated their first anniversary last month.
Cappelaere Delaney attended Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia.
"One of the things that really stands out, almost every time she always told me that she loved me and she was praying for me," said Erin Rawlick, a longtime friend from Bel Air and lacrosse teammate at the academy. "She was so full of love for everybody."
Rawlick said Cappelaere Delaney mentored her through flight school.
Cappelaere Delaney graduated from the academy in 2009 with a degree in aeronautical engineering. She received her diploma from President Barack Obama, who spoke at commencement that year. She pursued her course work aggressively, taking a double load of classes one semester while she studied at a French military academy.
Rawlick, also a Navy pilot stationed at Whidbey, remembers when her friend learned she had been selected for flight school in Pensacola, Fla. She started almost immediately after receiving her commission, quickly moving up to jet training in Meridian, Miss.
"She was excited to challenge herself, to take that next step," Rawlick said. "She's always been fearless."
Witnesses quoted by The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane described seeing two Navy jets flying over the wheat fields of Eastern Washington on Monday morning — a common sight for residents there.
Residents near the crash site compared the sound of the impact to an earthquake. They said the second plane circled over the crash for about 30 minutes before returning to base.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who nominated Cappelaere Delaney for admission to the academy, offered his condolences to her family.
"A student scholar, athlete and avid community service participant, Valerie represented the 'total package,'" Cummings said. "I was quite proud to nominate her for admission to the Naval Academy, and am even prouder to know she had an opportunity to serve her country the way her grandfather … had and the way she always wanted."