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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Tampa F-16 pilot died in mountain crash in Afghanistan

An Air Force report says an F-16 pilot from Tampa died in Afghanistan this spring when his fighter jet crashed into a mountain that he couldn’t see while returning to base.

The report released by Air Combat Command says 29-year-old Capt. James Michael Steel crashed about 12 miles outside of Bagram Air Field on April 3.

Just after 11 p.m. local time, Steel’s F-16 lost contact with its wingman and the tower as it was aligning for final approach to Bagram, according to Chief MSgt. Tyler Foster, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces Central.

Steel was returning from a nighttime combat mission supporting ground forces. The report says Steel flew into a mountainous area obscured by weather conditions and did not attempt to eject before slamming into the mountain. The report says the aircraft gave low-altitude warnings, but Steel didn’t take timely corrective action.

Steel, who was born in Tampa while his father, Robert, served as an F-16 pilot at MacDill Air Force Base, followed the family tradition and became an F-16 pilot like his father.

Michael Steel, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2006, was assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. After completing pilot training, he arrived at Shaw in June 2010. He was the chief of mobility for the 77th.

His father rose to the rank of major general, according to Steel’s brother, Christopher. Steel lived in Tampa for about two years, said Christopher Steel, who was also born in the Tampa area.

James Steel had a twin brother, Jonathan, according to Christopher Steel. Steel’s mother, Dee Steel, was also an Air Force Academy graduate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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