NELLIS AFB — Flags flew at half-staff across Nevada, and a host of other tributes have been paid in recent days to the late Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, the Air Force Thunderbirds pilot who had been stationed at Eglin Air Force Base.
Del Bagno died in the April 4 crash of the F-16 he flew as a pilot with the Air Force's precision flight demonstration team. Del Bagno — call sign "Cajun" — crashed on the Nevada Test and Training Range during what the Air Force is calling “a routine aerial demonstration training flight.” He was in his first season with the Thunderbirds, flying the No. 4 jet in the "slot" position behind the lead jet and between the two jets on the outside of the formation.
Immediately prior to reporting to the Thunderbirds at Nevada's Nellis Air Force Base last year, Del Bagno had served at Eglin for two years as an evaluator pilot for the F-35A, the Air Force version of the next-generation stealth fighter jet. Del Bagno was the first F-35 pilot chosen for the Thunderbirds
Two days after the crash, Eglin's 33rd Fighter Wing launched his jet just after sunrise to send it on a unrestricted takeoff run in excess of 500 mph.
"Maj. Stephen 'Cajun' Del Bagno's memory will always live on in our wing," the 33rd noted in a post on its Facebook page announcing the special flight of his fighter jet. "His presence made an everlasting impression on each of us."
The remaining Thunderbirds are being credited with another tribute to Del Bagno. On a recent day skywriting appeared over Valencia, California — Del Bagno's hometown — reading "Cajun, Our Hero."
But perhaps the most moving public tribute to Del Bagno came from actor Brie Larson. In addition to flying with the Thunderbirds, Del Bagno had been working as a consultant for the upcoming "Captain Marvel" movie, which features Larson as Carol Danvers, an Air Force officer turned superhero.
"Cajun, I didn't know it was possible to feel my heart continue to break deeper and deeper as the reality sets in. You were a brilliant pilot and an even better person," Larson posted on Twitter in the days after Del Bagno's crash. "There is no Carol without you. You helped create her and I am forever grateful. ... Rest easy, brother."
Marvel Studios, which is making "Captain Marvel," also mourned his passing on social media.
"We lost a friend yesterday," the studio posted immediately after the crash. "Marvel Studios is saddened to hear of the loss of Air Force Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, who we were lucky to get to know during his time as a consultant on Captain Marvel. We will miss him greatly; he’ll always be part of the team."
A private memorial service for Del Bagno was held Wednesday at Thunderbirds Hangar at Nellis. A number of airmen from the 33rd Fighter Wing, known as the Nomads, attended the service.
"The ceremony was absolutely beautiful and we're glad our Nomads were given the chance to attend," 2nd Lt. Savannah Stephens, the 33rd's chief of public affairs, said in an email.
In his proclamation ordering American and Nevada state flags to be flown at half-staff on the Friday after the crash, Gov. Brian Sandoval said "all Nevadans are grateful for the service of Major Del Bagno, and express deepest sympathy to his family and loved ones."
Memorials to Del Bagno will continue through this weekend. According to the Santa Clarita Valley (California) Signal, a celebration of Del Bagno's life will be held at Saugus High School, where he graduated. The ceremony is expected to include a flyover, although it is not clear whether the Thunderbirds will participate.
Like the memorial service at Nellis, the Saugus observance is scheduled for 4:44 p.m. Sunday, in homage to Del Bagno's position as the Thunderbirds' No. 4 pilot.