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Thunderbirds soar above Las Vegas Valley to honor those battling pandemic

Updated April 11, 2020 - 7:33 pm

The Air Force’s Thunderbirds gave residents a reason to head outside and cheer for the first time in weeks when the fighter jets performed a flyover Saturday above every hospital in the Las Vegas Valley.

The sky-high honor began at 2:30 p.m. and was intended to recognize first responders, health care professionals and other workers battling the coronavirus pandemic, Nellis Air Force Base officials said Friday.

Starting at the base, the Thunderbirds soared for about 25 minutes, first going above the Centennial Hills, Summerlin and Spring Valley areas before passing the Strip toward Henderson.

“We’ve been amazed at just the tenacity, the dedication, the professionalism of some of our medical professionals,” Lt. Col. John Caldwell, commander and leader of the Thunderbirds, said in a virtual news conference Friday.

“What better way to show a supportive solidarity of our thank you, of our gratitude than dedicating these flyovers to our medical community?”

The flyover featured eight F-16 Fighting Falcons. Six aircraft performed formations, 3 feet apart, at altitudes of 500 to 1,000 feet and traveling at up to 450 mph. The entire squadron participated, which is rare for the team, Caldwell said.

Residents across the Las Vegas Valley opened their doors, some even driving to bridges, mountains or Las Vegas Boulevard, all while maintaining social distancing.

Caldwell said the demonstration is also meant to celebrate all front-line workers and the “determination that we have as Americans.”

Patrick Parry, 57, and his wife, Iris, sat in their pickup on Las Vegas Boulevard, eagerly awaiting the flyover.

“It’s kind of cool to see; it gives us something to do,” Iris Parry said while sitting on her blanket atop the truck.

The parking lots of Town Square and Las Vegas Golf Center were nearly full by the time 2:30 rolled around.To enforce social distancing, Chris Slajar parked his truck horizontally across multiple rows outside the shuttered golf center.

“We’re getting very stir crazy; this lets us out to see eight super-cool fighter jets,” Slajar, 47, said.

The Marine Corps veteran was accompanied by his wife, Veronica, 49, who said she’s accustomed to working from home but not to never being allowed outside.

For Jeff and Jessica Rimando, the outing was a great chance to introduce their two children to the Thunderbirds.

The couple and Jayden, 9, and Jenna, 7, packed into the car and headed toward the Strip to find a central spot to watch the show.

“We needed some cheer,” Jessica Rimando said.

After the 25-minute flight concluded the Thunderbirds released their unclassified flight plan showing that route used by the F-16s as they slauted workers at 18 Las Vegas Valley hospitals.

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Briana Erickson contributed to this report.

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