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Pilot killed in Afghanistan identified; son of retired 2-star

Apr. 5, 2013 - 12:05PM   |  
Maj. Gen. Robert Steel, then-comandant of the National War College at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C., and his son, 1st Lt. James Steel, then a 63rd Fighter Squadron student pilot, talk in this file photo. James Steel has been identified as the pilot killed in Afghanistan this week.
Maj. Gen. Robert Steel, then-comandant of the National War College at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C., and his son, 1st Lt. James Steel, then a 63rd Fighter Squadron student pilot, talk in this file photo. James Steel has been identified as the pilot killed in Afghanistan this week. (Staff Sgt. Ian Dean / file)
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The F-16 pilot killed in an April 3 crash in eastern Afghanistan is the son of retired Maj. Gen. Robert Steel, former commandant of the National War College.

Capt. James Michael Steel, 29, of Tampa, Fla., died in the crash near Bagram Airfield, according to the Defense Department. Steel was assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.

“Our condolences and prayers are with the family, friends and squadron members of Capt. Steel,” said Col. Clay Hall, 20th Fighter Wing commander, in a statement. “This is a difficult time for Shaw AFB, but we are focused on taking care of the Steel family, our Airmen and continuing to execute the mission.”

Steel graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2006, following in the footsteps of his father and other family members.

His father, a fighter pilot, was commandant of the National War College at Fort McNair, Washington D.C., before he retired in 2011. His mother, Dee, twin brother, Jonathan, and younger brother Christopher also are Academy graduates, according to a 2009 story in the base paper at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., titled, “Like father, like son.” Another brother, Paul, was in basic training at the time to be a joint terminal attack controller, and brother Bob was applying for an officer training school slot, the article said.

“Since I was little, I got to watch my dad take off and see him come back from deployment,” James, then a 1st lieutenant with the 63rd Fighter Squadron at Luke, said in the story. “It is cool to actually be doing what he used to do.”

Just after 11 p.m. local time April 3, the F-16 lost contact with its wingman and the tower while it was getting ready for final approach to Bagram, said Capt. Natassia Cherne, a spokeswoman for Air Forces Central Command.

“There was no indication of enemy activity at the time of the incident,” Cherne said in an email. “The cause of the accident is still under investigation. Our hearts and thoughts go out to the airman's family. The loss of our airman will be felt throughout the Air Force.”

The 455th Air Expeditionary Wing has appointed an interim safety board president, and Air Combat Command will establish safety investigation and accident investigation boards.

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