Pence recalls meeting ‘courageous’ Thunderbird pilot

Pence recalls meeting ‘courageous’ Thunderbird pilot
U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Boitz via CNN

Vice President Mike Pence recalled recently meeting the US Air Force Thunderbird pilot who was killed in a Wednesday training incident, offering his condolences in a series of tweets Thursday.

Pence described the pilot, Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, as “courageous” and “an inspiring American,” noting that he met Del Bagno in January on a visit to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

“Deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Thunderbird pilot Maj. Stephen Del Bagno. I had the honor to meet Maj. Del Bagno when I visited @NellisAFB in January,” the vice president wrote.

“He was a courageous pilot & an inspiring American whose service will never be forgotten,” a second tweet added. “Will be praying for his family, friends and fellow Thunderbirds during this difficult time.”

Del Bagno was killed on Wednesday when his F-16 jet crashed at Nellis Air Force Base.

In a statement, the Air Force said the jet, from the service’s precision demonstration team, crashed at 10:30 a.m. during routine training on the Nevada Test and Training Range.

“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.”

The team’s participation at the March Air Reserve Base “The March Field Air & Space Expo” has been canceled. It is unknown how this accident will impact the remainder of the 2018 Thunderbirds season.

An investigation is underway.

The crash of the F-16 was the third for a Thunderbird jet in the past two years, and the fourth incident involving a US military aircraft in approximately 24 hours.

Prior to Wednesday’s incident, a US Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II jet crashed on Tuesday during takeoff from Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. The pilot was able to eject and was being treated. Also, a Marine Corps CH-53 crashed Tuesday in the vicinity of Naval Air Facility El Centro in California, killing four crew members.

A Marines Corps CH-53 helicopter also was damaged late Tuesday while landing in the East African country of Djibouti, in the vicinity of Arta Beach.