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March 22, 2019

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Air Force IDs Thunderbirds pilot killed in training crash

Red Flag 13-3 Media Day at Nellis AFB

Steve Marcus

Members of the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, train at Nellis Air Force Base Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013.

Updated Thursday, April 5, 2018 | 11:51 a.m.

Maj. Stephen Del Bagno

Maj. Stephen Del Bagno

The Air Force has identified the Thunderbirds pilot killed when his F-16 fighter jet crashed Wednesday during a routine training flight as Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, the slot pilot on the flight demonstration squadron.

The six-pilot team flies out of Nellis Air Force Base near North Las Vegas.

“We are mourning the loss of Maj. Del Bagno,” said Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, 57th Wing Commander. “He was an integral part of our team and our hearts are heavy with his loss. We ask everyone to provide his family and friends the space to heal during this difficult time.”

The accident occurred about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday during an aerial demonstration training flight over the Nevada Test and Training Range northwest of Las Vegas, which covers some 4,500 square miles.

The accident remains under investigation.

Del Bagno, who is from Valencia, Calif., was in his first season with the elite team, flying the No. 4 jet.

According to his team biography, he was a 2005 graduate of Utah Valley State University and became an Air Force officer in 2007. Before joining the Air Force, Del Bagno was a civilian flight instructor, corporate pilot, skywriter and a banner tow pilot.

Before joining the Thunderbirds, Del Bagno was an F-35A evaluator pilot at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. He logged more than 3,500 flight hours in more than 30 different aircraft, with 1,400 hours as an Air Force pilot.

He enjoyed snowboarding, water sports and spending time with family and friends, according to his bio.

Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick, whose district includes Nellis AFB, called the incident "a tragic day for the Las Vegas community and the nation."

"My heart goes out to the pilot's family and friends and to the fine men and women of Nellis and the Thunderbirds team, whose importance to Las Vegas and our nation's defense cannot be overstated," she said.

The Thunderbirds' participation at the March Field Air & Space Expo in Riverside County, Calif., this weekend has been canceled. It is unknown how the crash will affect the remainder of the Thunderbirds' schedule this year.

The fatal incident was the third U.S. military aircraft crash this week.

Four crew members were killed when a Marine CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed Tuesday in California during a training mission along the U.S.-Mexico border west of El Centro.

The same day, a Marine Harrier jet crashed during takeoff from an airport in the East African nation of Djibouti. The pilot ejected and was medically evaluated.

Last September at Nellis, a U.S. Air Force pilot died of injuries after a crash on the training range about 100 miles northwest of the base.

Officials did not disclose the type of aircraft Lt. Col. Eric Schultz had been piloting. He was assigned to a military command that conducts research and weapon system tests.

In January, an unspecified military aircraft aborted takeoff and caught fire at Nellis, but no serious injuries were reported.

The F-16 is a single-engine multirole fighter produced in single- and two-seat variants. It is powered by either a Pratt and Whitney or General Electric engine and has a maximum speed of 1,500 mph, according to the Air Force.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.