The Charlotte Observer
A 21-year-old naval student from Texas fell to his death while hiking around a waterfall in Chile, according to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
The student, Midshipman 2nd Class Luke Gabriel Bird, was studying abroad in Chile at the Arturo Prat Naval Academy in Valparaiso, about 70 miles northwest of the country’s capital, Santiago, according to a news release from the U.S. Naval Academy.
Bird was ohiking with a Chilean Naval Academy student at the Salto El Agua waterfall in Placilla, about 7 miles south of Valparaiso, on July 16 when he slipped and fell over the waterfall at around 11 a.m., the release says. His body was recovered by Chilean first responders at around 10:30 a.m. on July 17 in a lagoon. The waterfall is surrounded by a popular, 3-mile hiking trail that’s considered challenging, according to Alltrails.com
“Luke was everything a father would want in a son, and so much more,” his father, Chad Bird, wrote on Facebook. “He was, and remains, a gift of God to us all.”
Bird was from New Braunfels, Texas, about 50 miles southwest of Austin. He attended New Braunfels High School where he was on the wrestling team and served as captain during his junior and senior years, according to the naval academy release.
He was vice president of the National Honor Society, and he served in student government and as battalion commander of his high school’s Marine Corps JROTC unit, the release says. He also loved to cycle.
In 2018, he received a Legion of Valor Bronze Cross for Achievement, which recognizes “outstanding achievement in both scholastic and military subjects and outstanding leadership demonstrated in both school and in the community,” the release says. He was one of five Marine Corps JROTC cadets in the country to receive the honor.
At the naval academy, he majored in ocean engineering, participated in the Semper Fi Society and played intramural sports.
“It is hard to find the words to summarize who Luke was, so instead, I find it appropriate to talk about his actions,” one of Bird’s friends, Midshipman 1st Class Travis Delgado, said in a statement. “Luke was an unfathomably smart midshipman. We attended many courses together, allowing me to get to know him beyond just being company mates. He mentored, and tutored me in our shared courses, spending much of his free time helping me. He greatly exemplified the hard working midshipman who helps anyone at the drop of a hat.”
The entire naval academy community was grieving Bird’s loss, Vice Admiral Sean Buck, superintendent of the academy, said in a statement.
“I encourage all of our Naval Academy family to offer support to one another as we navigate the grieving process,” he said in the statement.
Bird was also authorized to wear the National Defense Service Medal, which is awarded for “honorable active military service,” and he earned the Marksman Rifle Qualification and Sharpshooter Pistol Qualification badges, which are issued to soldiers after completing weapons qualification courses.
A friend who said he had known Bird since fourth grade wrote on Facebook that Bird was his role model.
“I have never known someone as smart as Luke,” wrote William Wallace. “He was incredible at everything he did. He was an excellent scholar, a gifted athlete, one of the funniest people you would ever meet, and the greatest friend that a person could ask for.”
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