Air Force Cancels Two Thunderbirds Shows Following Fatal Accident

The Thunderbirds Diamond formation pilots transition during Line Break Loop maneuver over the Nevada Test and Training Range during a training flight, Jan. 29, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Christopher Boitz)
The Thunderbirds Diamond formation pilots transition during Line Break Loop maneuver over the Nevada Test and Training Range during a training flight, Jan. 29, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Christopher Boitz)

The Air Force Thunderbirds have cancelled their next two airshows following the death of fellow pilot Maj Stephen "Cajun" Del Bagno, the team's commander said Monday.

The Thunderbirds will not perform at the Lakeland, Florida "Sun-N-Fun Fly-In & Expo" or the "Wings over Columbus" show at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, according to a video statement from Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, the Thunderbirds' commander.

Walsh said more shows for the 2018 season could also be cancelled, but said the squadron is prioritizing Del Bagno's legacy and family.

"We remember 'Cajun' as an airman, warrior, a talented fighter pilot and a great friend," Walsh said in the video.

The Thunderbirds, part of the 57th Wing, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, will host Del Bagno's family for a memorial service sometime this week, Walsh said, but did not provide specifications.

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Del Bagno was participating in a routine training flight at the Nevada Test and Training Range April 4 when the crash occurred at approximately 10:30 a.m. local time, the Thunderbirds said in a release.

The cause of the accident remains under investigation.

Del Bagno was the slot pilot flying the No. 4 jet for the Thunderbirds, according to the team's website. Before joining the team, Del Bagno was an F-35A Joint Strike Fighter evaluator pilot and chief of standardization and evaluation with the 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

The Valencia, California, native had more than 3,500 flying hours in over 30 different aircraft, with 1,400 hours as an Air Force pilot, his official biography said.

He was in his first season with the demonstration team.

Tributes and condolences came pouring in after the accident occurred, including from actress Brie Larson, with whom Del Bagno worked in preparation for Larson’s role as the Air Force-pilot-turned-superhero Captain Marvel. Larson, alongside Marvel Studios, tweeted out their condolences over the weekend.

As the Thunderbirds move forward, the health and safety of the team is also one of Walsh's concerns, he said.

"We're taking care of our squadron. We're holding each other up, but recognize we can't always do it alone," he said, adding additional teams and agencies are working with them for support and recovery.

"When the time is right, we will get back to executing our mission to recruit, retain and aspire," he said.

Walsh thanked fans, airmen and service members from around the world who have offered support for the team as they recover and work to honor Del Bagno's legacy.

"We are deeply moved by your compassion, and we ask that you continue to keep 'Cajun' and his family in your thoughts," Walsh said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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