Thunderbirds Back in the Air After Deadly Crash

Two U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 Fighting Falcons perform an aerial demonstration during the Thunder Over South Georgia Air Show, Oct. 29, 2017 at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. (U.S. Air Force photo/Eugene Oliver)
Two U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 Fighting Falcons perform an aerial demonstration during the Thunder Over South Georgia Air Show, Oct. 29, 2017 at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. (U.S. Air Force photo/Eugene Oliver)

The Air Force Thunderbirds have resumed flight training following the death of fellow pilot Maj. Stephen "Cajun" Del Bagno, the team's commander said Wednesday.

"Today, the Thunderbirds will resume practice flights over the Nevada Test and Training Range," Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, Thunderbirds Commander and lead pilot, said in a statement. "While our hearts are still heavy with the loss of our wingman Cajun, we know he'd want us back in the air and preparing to recruit, retain and inspire once more."

Walsh said the team, part of the 57th Wing, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, is still weighing whether it will cancel more shows in the next few weeks.

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Walsh on April 9 said the squadron would not perform at the Lakeland, Florida "Sun-N-Fun Fly-In & Expo" or the "Wings over Columbus" show at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.

"Further cancellations are still possible," he said on Wednesday. "For now, we ask for your patience as we resume training operations and support the safety investigation. When we do resume our show season, we'll do so with the full faith and confidence of senior Air Force leadership that we are safe and ready to perform.".

Del Bagno was the F-16 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.

On Sunday, a public funeral was held at at Saugus High School, his alma mater, in Santa Clarita, California.

During the funeral, Del Bagno received full military honors, including a 21-gun salute, the playing of Taps and a flyover from F-35s and F-16 Fighting Falcons, the Thunderbirds said in a release.

The team on April 11 commemorated Del Bagno's legacy with their own memorial service at the base.

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.

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 cause of the accident remains under investigation.

Walsh again on Wednesday thanked fans and servicemembers for their support and kind messages from all across globe.

"I'd like to again thank all our friends and fans for the unbelievable amount of love and support you've provided to Cajun's family and this squadron," he said. "You have helped us through some incredibly difficult days and aided us in our first steps on the long road to recovery. Hard days lie ahead, but we press on a little stronger thanks to you."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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