Naval Academy Midshipman Dies in Hiking Accident During Study Abroad in Chile, School Says

Luke Bird's company mate described his late friend as a "great man" and "unfathomably smart"

This undated photo provided by the U.S. Navy shows Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Gabriel Bird of New Braunfels
Photo: Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock

A U.S. Naval Academy midshipman died in Chile after losing his footing during a hike and falling over a waterfall.

In a statement Monday, the Naval Academy announced that Midshipman 2nd class Luke Gabriel Bird's body was found by Chilean authorities on Sunday morning in a lagoon near the Salto El Agua waterfall in Placilla, Chile.

The junior, 21, was attending a semester abroad program at Chile's naval academy counterpart, Escuela Naval Arturo Prat, and had been hiking with another student Saturday morning when he fell over the waterfall. In a previous release, the Naval Academy said that foul play was not suspected.

"We are incredibly saddened by the tragic loss of Midshipman Luke Bird this weekend," Vice Adm. Sean Buck, 63rd Superintendent, U.S. Naval Academy said in the statement. "My wife, Joanne, and I and the entire Naval Academy community offer our sincerest condolences to Luke's family, friends, and fellow midshipmen during this difficult time. I encourage all of our Naval Academy family to offer support to one another as we navigate the grieving process."

United States Naval Academy The body of Midshipman 2nd Class (junior) Luke Gabriel Bird, 21, of New Braunfels, Texas
Photo courtesy of Midshipman 2nd Class (junior) Ollen Brown/United States Naval Academy

Bird was from New Braunfels, Texas, and was a member of the 20th and 2nd companies at the Naval Academy, where he also participated in the Semper Fi society and in intramural sports while majoring in ocean engineering. At New Braunfels High School, he served as a two-time wrestling team captain, National Honors Society vice president, and the battalion commander for the high school's Marine Corps JROTC unit, according to the Naval Academy.

"It is hard to find the words to summarize who Luke was, so instead, I find it appropriate to talk about his actions," said Midshipman 1st Class (senior) Travis Delgado, a friend of Bird's, in the statement.

Delgado called Bird "an unfathomably smart midshipman" and shared that Bird often tutored him in the courses they took together.

"He greatly exemplified the hard working midshipman who helps anyone at the drop of a hat," Delgado said. "He was a great man and will be dearly missed by all those in 20th Company and throughout the brigade."

The U.S. Naval Academy told PEOPLE Tuesday that it did not have any additional information to share regarding Bird's death at this time.

On Sunday, Bird's father, Chad L. Bird, wrote that he has "never known such pain" following the death of his son, in a statement shared to Facebook.

"Pray for us, all our family and friends, Luke's fellow midshipmen, and all who grieve the passing of this phenomenally gifted young man, who daily inspired me, for he didn't know how to give anything less than 100%," Chad wrote.

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At the Naval Academy, Bird was authorized to wear the National Defense Service Medal and had also earned a Marksman Rifle Qualification Badge and a Sharpshooter Pistol Qualification Badge, according to the academy's statement.

In 2018, he was just one of five Marine Corps JROTC candidates across the country to receive a Legion of Valor Bronze Cross for Achievement in recognition of his "both scholastic and military subjects and outstanding leadership demonstrated in both school and in the community," according to the Naval Academy.

Funeral arrangements for Bird were still pending as of Monday, the Naval Academy said.

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