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Officials identify pilot killed in F-16 jet crash over Nevada desert

Deadly Thunderbirds crash
Deadly Thunderbirds crash marks 4th U.S. military aircraft crash this week 01:54

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- The U.S. Air Force on Thursday identified the pilot who died when his F-16 Fighting Falcon jet crashed during training over the Nevada desert. The service says Maj. Stephen Del Bagno died when his jet went down around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday during a routine aerial demonstration training flight over the remote Nevada Test and Training Range, according to a statement from Nellis Air Force Base, where the Thunderbirds are based.

Maj. Stephen Del Bagno U.S. Air Force

"We are mourning the loss of Major 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."

Maj. Del Bagno was 34 years old and lived in Valencia, California. He was a former civilian flight instructor and banner tow pilot.

His Thunderbirds biography said Del Bagno was also a corporate pilot and skywriter who graduated in 2005 from Utah Valley State University and was commissioned two years later from Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.

He was in his first season with the Thunderbirds flight demonstration team, after serving with the 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida as an F-35A stealth jet evaluation pilot.

His biography credited him with more than 3,500 total flight hours in more than 30 different aircraft -- the equivalent of more than 87 work weeks of 40 hours each.

An investigation of the crash was underway and the Thunderbirds' appearance this weekend at March Air Reserve Base in California has been canceled.

The Air Force said it was not known how the accident will impact the remainder of the 2018 Thunderbirds season.

A Thunderbirds spokeswoman, Sgt. Stephanie Englar at Nellis, said plans were being made for a memorial but a date had not been selected.

Thunderbirds Pilot Identified
In this file photo, Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, Thunderbird 4/Slot Pilot, preforms preflight checks in his F-16 Fighting Falcon at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2018. U.S. Air Force Photo by Master Sgt. Christopher Boitz

The 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.

The Air Force formed the Thunderbirds in 1953. The team's worst accident was the "Diamond Crash" in 1982. Four pilots were killed when their planes went down at Thunderbird Lake. A malfunction in the leader's plane led him and the three others to crash in the diamond formation straight into the desert.

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.

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