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| Tuesday, Apr 10, 2018
 

Thousands of people from all over the country have shown an outpour of support for the family and friends of Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, a United States Air Force Thunderbirds team member who died last week.

A long-time lover of flying, Del Bagno achieved what most could not: Del Bagno was the Slot Pilot for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, flying the Thunderbird No. 4 jet, one of only 325 officers to ever be named “America’s Ambassadors in Blue.”

He died doing what he loved on April 4, 2018 at 10:30 a.m., during a routine aerial demonstration training flight in his F-16 Fighting Falcon over the Nellis Air Force Base Test and Training Range in Nevada. He was 34 years old.

The Santa Clarita Valley community came together on Saturday for a vigil in his hometown neighborhood to share memories of their beloved friend, brother, son, and neighbor who was nicknamed “Cajun.”

“A lot of times he looked at me and said ‘Dad, you’re my hero.’ And I looked back at him and said ‘No, you’re my inspiration. You’re my hero. You give me the strength to do what I do every day. You helped me stay focused.’,” Stephen Del Bagno’s father, Joe Del Bagno, said during the vigil. “How lucky was I that, first off, he loved America. How lucky was I that in his passion, he wanted to fly and be an Air Force pilot.”

Another memorial is expected to be held sometime during the weekend of April 14 -15.

Vice President Mike Pence, released a statement Thursday:

 

Marvel Studios and Brie Larson, star of the upcoming “Captain Marvel,” released statements on Thursday and Friday. Del Bagno had been a consultant on the movie while Larson conducted research for her character at Nellis Air Force Base.

 

Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, leader and Commander of the Thunderbirds, also released a statement Tuesday:

“…His loss comes as a shock to his family, friends and wingmen. We remember Cajun as an Airman, a warrior, a talented fighter pilot and a great friend with more than thirty-five hundred flight hours in over thirty different aircraft. He lived to fly and inspire the next generation.

Right now we have three priorities. First, we’re taking care of Cajun’s family. The Air Force and the Thunderbirds are making sure they have all the assistance they need in this difficult time. This week, we’ll host his family for a memorial service where we’ll honor Cajun’s legacy and celebrate his amazing life.

Second, we are taking care of our squadron. We are a resilient team of high-performing professionals and we’re holding each other up, but we recognize we can’t always do it all alone, which is why we have a robust network of agencies supporting us as we mourn and recover.

Third, when the time is right, we’ll get back to executing our mission: to recruit, retain and inspire.

Moving forward, we’ll press on with the full faith and confidence of our leadership in pursuing these objectives… I’d like to thank all of our family, friends, fans and alumni out there who have been a tremendous source of strength this week. Thousands upon thousands of you have offered kind words of encouragement, condolences and loving tributes to Cajun’s legacy. We are deeply moved by your compassion and we ask that you continue to keep Cajun and his family in your thoughts.”

He is a 2005 graduate of Utah Valley State University, and commissioned from Officer Training School, Maxwell AFB, Ala. in 2007.

Before joining the Thunderbirds, he served as an F-35A Evaluator Pilot and Chief of Standardization and Evaluation, 58th Fighter Squadron, Eglin AFB, Fla., according to his biography on the Thunderbirds website.

He had logged 3,500 total flight hours in over 30 different aircraft, with 1,400 hours as an Air Force pilot, according to the biography. Del Bagno was only in his first season with the Thunderbirds team.

In his free time, he was a civilian flight instructor, corporate pilot, skywriter, and a banner tow pilot, according to his biography. He also enjoyed snowboarding, water sports and spending time with family and friends.

He’s known around the Santa Clarita Valley as a neighbor and a 2001 Saugus High School alumni who participated in sports, including varsity soccer and basketball.

The team’s participation at the March Air Reserve Base “The March Field Air & Space Expo,” as well as performances at the Lakeland and Columbus Air Force Bases were canceled after Del Bagno’s death. It is unknown how this incident will impact the remainder of the 2018 Thunderbirds Season.

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