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U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds cancel Fort Lauderdale Air Show appearance

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds announced Thursday morning that they’ve canceled their appearance at the Fort Lauderdale Air Show May 5-6 following a pilot’s fatal crash in the Nevada desert earlier this month.

In response to the cancellation, Air Show organizers have replaced the Thunderbirds with a new headliner, the U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet TAC Demo team.

The scratched date follows the death of Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, a 34-year-old Thunderbirds pilot who crashed his F-16 at the Nevada Test and Training Range during routine aerial training.

“While we’re disappointed the Thunderbirds will not be performing, we totally respect their decision given the situation,” Bryan Lilley, president of the Fort Lauderdale Air Show, said in a prepared statement Thursday morning. “We wish them the best as they recover from their loss.”

In response to the pilot’s death, the Thunderbirds also recently called off appearances at Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-In and Expo in Lakeland (April 14-15) and Wings Over Columbus in Mississippi (April 21-22). The Thunderbirds were billed as the Fort Lauderdale Air Show’s headliner, and their last Fort Lauderdale flyover was in 2016.

Before the Air Show’s announcement, Master Sgt. Christopher Boitz, a spokesman for the Thunderbirds’ public affairs office in Nevada, said on Wednesday that the scrubbed shows allowed the Thunderbirds to mourn Del Bagno and to seek his replacement.

On Thursday morning, the Thunderbirds in a press statement said they picked Maj. Nick “Khan” Krajicek to replace Del Bagno, adding that the canceled Fort Lauderdale date buys time “to facilitate Krajicek’s requalification training.”

The crash is still under investigation, Boitz said, and the Thunderbirds resumed flying April 18. Two weeks ago, Thunderbirds commander Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh posted a YouTube video saluting Del Bagno, referring to him by his call sign, “Cajun.”

“We remember Cajun as an airman, a warrior, a talented fighter pilot, and a great friend with more than 3,500 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft,” Walsh says in the video. “He lived to fly and inspire the next generation.”

The elite fighter-jet team, based out of Nellis Air Force Base north of Las Vegas, has performances scheduled at another 30 locations across the country through November.

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