F-16 pilot from Shaw dies in Afghanistan

A Shaw Air Focre Base pilot is dead after a crash near Bagram Air Field in eastern Afghanistan.

COLUMBIA (WACH/AP) -- An F-16 pilot from Shaw Air Force Base is dead after a crash near Bagram Air Field in eastern Afghanistan.

The Department of Defense has identified the pilot as Capt. James Michael Steel, 29, of Tampa, Fla. He was assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron, Shaw Air Force Base.

Authorities say Steel was returning to base from a close air support mission when the aircraft crashed.

â??Our condolences and prayers are with the family, friends and squadron members of Capt. Steel,â?? said Col. Clay Hall, 20th Fighter Wing commander. â??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.â??

NATO said in a statement that the cause of the incident is still being investigated, but initial reporting indicates that there was "no insurgent activity in the area" when the plane went down.

According to a

Stars and Stripes report

Air Force Central Command spokesperson Capt. Natassia Cherne said the plane was on its final approach to land after a routine air support mission around 11 p.m. when it lost contact with its wingman and the control tower, and crashed 10 miles south of the runway.

The Stars and Stripes went on to report that the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing has appointed an interim safety investigation board president, and Air Combat Command has stood up a safety investigation board and an accident investigation board.

Officials at Shaw say Steel graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2006 and arrived in Sumter in June 2010 after completing training.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)