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Thunderbirds pilot killed during routine flight in Nevada identified

April 5, 2018 Updated: April 6, 2018 at 12:07 pm
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The Thunderbirds practice for the Air Force Academy's 2017 graduation in this Gazette file photo by Jerilee Bennett.

A U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pilot was killed Wednesday morning during a routine aerial demonstration flight at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, a Utah Valley State University graduate, crashed while flying a F-16 Fighting Falcon over the Nevada Test and training Range about 10:30 a.m., Air Force officials said.

Maj. Stephen Del Bagno (Photo via U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds) 

"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."

Del Bagno graduated from Utah Valley State University in 2005 and was commissioned from Officer Training School at the Maxwell Air Reserve Base in Alabama in 2007. This was his first season with the Thunderbirds and did not participate in last year's Pikes Peak Regional Airshow.

The team has canceled its participation in the "March Field Air & Space Expo" April 7 and 8 at the March Air Reserve Base in southern California. Air Force officials are not sure how the crash will affect the remainder of its season, including a flyover at the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony May 23.

In June 2016, Thunderbirds pilot Maj. Alex Turner crashed in a field in the Security-Widefield area after performing a flyover at the Academy's graduation ceremony. Investigation revealed that a maintenance issue caused Turner to accidentally turn off the jet's engine. He ejected and was not injured.

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