Military ID's 5 service members killed in California, Nevada crashes

Military ID's 5 service members killed in California, Nevada crashes
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Military officials have identified the four Marines killed in a CH-53 helicopter crash Tuesday in Southern California, as well as the Air Force pilot killed in an F-16 crash Wednesday in Nevada.

Capt. Samuel Schultz, 28, of Huntington Valley, Pa.; 1st Lt. Samuel Phillips, 27, of Pinehurst, N.C.; Gunnery Sgt. Derik Holley, 33, of Dayton, Ohio; and Lance Cpl. Taylor Conrad, 24, of Baton Rouge, La., were killed when their CH-53 Super Stallion crashed 15 miles west of El Centro, Calif., according to a Marine Corps statement.

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All four were assigned to Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing based in Miramar, Calif.

“The loss of our Marines weighs heavy on our hearts,” Maj. Gen. Mark Wise, commanding general of the aircraft wing, said in the statement.

“Our priority is to provide support for our families and HMH-465 during this critical time.”

The helicopter crashed after it left the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., “to conduct squadron training consisting of aircraft landings in unimproved zones,” according to the statement.

And the Air Force on Thursday identified Maj. Stephen Del Bagno of Valencia, Calif., as the Thunderbirds pilot killed when his F-16 Fighting Falcon crashed Wednesday at the Nevada Test and Training range.

Del Bagno was on “a routine aerial demonstration training flight” at the time of the crash, according to a statement from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

“We are mourning the loss of Major Del Bagno,” 57th Wing Commander Jeannie Leavitt said in the statement. “He was an integral part of the team, and our hearts are heavy with his loss.”

The deadly Marine and Air Force crashes — both still under investigation — are part of a string of military aircraft mishaps in recent days.

On Tuesday, during an annual amphibious exercise in Djibouti known as Alligator Dagger, a AV-8B Harrier jet from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit crashed at Djibouti Ambouli International Airport. The pilot ejected and was largely uninjured.

Hours later, a Marine CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter from the same unit was damage during a landing at Arta Beach, Djibouti. The aircrew was not injured.

U.S. air operations in Djibouti are now on hold after the two incidents, and the military exercise was canceled.

Joint Staff Director Kenneth McKenzie said during a Pentagon briefing Thursday that he would not call the string of crashes a “crisis.”

“Those are missteps that occurred we're going to look at each one in turn," he told reporters. “Each one is tragic. I'm certainly not prepared to say that it's a wave of mishaps or some form of crisis.”