A U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pilot killed when his F-16 Fighting Falcon crashed outside of Las Vegas Wednesday morning has been identified.
The U.S. Air Force identified the pilot as Maj. Stephen Del Bagno. A few months ago, the U.S. Thunderbirds posted a video of him receiving his red helmet upon joining the team.
"Once you don that red helmet it means you no longer have your instructor in the back seat. So it's a bit surreal," Del Bagno said in the video. "The safety net's gone. You're on your own, and it was just fantastic."
Del Bagno went by the name "Cajun." He was the Thunderbirds' slot pilot, flying the number four jet.
Family members said he died doing what he loved.
“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," said Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt.
Del Bagno also worked as a consultant on Captain Marvel, according to Marvel Studios. In a tweet, the company said: "we will miss him greatly; he’ll always be part of the team."
The crash happened around 10:30 a.m. during "routine aerial demonstration training" on the Nevada Test and Training Range, a few miles north of Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, according to Nellis Air Force Base.
The F-16 was assigned to Nellis Air Force Base.
The crash is under investigation, a spokesperson for Nellis Air Force Base said.
"The airplanes have got to be in great shape, which they are, because they've got marvelous maintenance," said retired Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney. "It sounds like one of the airplanes clipped the other one. I don't know that for sure... It's very difficult for the pilot to get out of the airplane at such a low altitude so fast."
Phil Frank, a Vietnam veteran, came down to Creech Air Force Base to plant the United States flag and show his support. He lives across the street in Indian Springs.
"When it happens close to home it does seem much more personal. There's no if ands or buts. This is an important part of our community here," Frank said. "Unfortunately those things happen. It's a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the families. It's a price that we pay for the freedom that these fellas are training to keep us in, the free country that we are."
Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick, whose district includes Nellis Air Force Base, said she was devastated to hear the news.
"I was terribly saddened to learn of the death of a U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 pilot at the Nevada Test and Training Range," she wrote. "This is 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. I urge the community to keep the Nellis family in your thoughts during this difficult time and to let servicemen and women know, now more than ever, that we appreciate their service."
Governor Brian Sandoval ordered flags to be flown at half-staff from sunrise until sundown in Del Bagno's honor.
A GoFundMe account for scholarship in Del Bagno's name has been set up also.
The team's participation at the March Air Reserve Base "The March Field Air & Space Expo" has been canceled. It is unknown how the accident will impact the remainder of the 2018 Thunderbirds Season, Nellis Air Force Base said. The team had events scheduled every weekend until August.
Last year, another Thunderbirds pilot crashed in Ohio. Maj. Erik Gonsavles, who is still with the team, suffered leg injuries. His jet flipped over upon landing.
In 2016, a third Thunderbirds pilot, Maj. Alex Turner, ejected safely after his jet suffered engine failure.
Stay with FOX5 and FOX5Vegas.com for developments.
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