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Thunderbirds fly overhead as a salute to first responders for COVID-19

The Air Force Thunderbirds do a fly-by to salute the state’s COVID-19 first responders, some of whom watched from Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach on Friday.
The Air Force Thunderbirds do a fly-by to salute the state’s COVID-19 first responders, some of whom watched from Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach on Friday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Planes roared overhead in Orange County on Friday afternoon as the Air Force Thunderbirds flew over the county in salute to front-line responders to COVID-19.

Sailing overhead in a tight formation, six F-16C/D Fighting Falcons took a flight path to parts of Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Ventura and Riverside counties Friday. The flight brought out nurses and patients at local hospitals, including at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach.

“This was an amazing way to spend some time on Friday with fellow colleagues,” Shelley Williams, a nurse in Hoag’s emergency department, said. “The day-to-day challenges change for us but our coworkers have been a constant support throughout COVID-19.”

Scott Surico, also a nurse in the emergency department, said that he had been working at the hospital for 20 years, but said Friday felt different and that he was thankful for the Thunderbirds’ flyover. Marina Savelyeva, a dietitian in the hospital’s food and nutrition department, said she thought the Blue Angels were incredible and said it felt nice being appreciated and valued at “work and home.”

An employee of Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian applauds while looking from a roof-top spot as the Thunderbirds do a fly-by to salute the state's COVID-19 first responders, in Newport Beach on Friday.
An employee of Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian applauds while looking from a roof-top spot as the Thunderbirds do a fly-by to salute the state’s COVID-19 first responders, in Newport Beach on Friday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

The flyovers were part of a two-week campaign called “America Strong” by the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, and the Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, as a show of national solidarity in parts of the country that were hit hardest by COVID-19.

As of Friday afternoon, there have been 76,420 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 3,129 deaths in California. In Orange County, there have been 4,125 confirmed cases, with 430 of those cases involving skilled nursing facility residents and 335 of them being jail inmates. Eighty-four people have died.

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“It is an honor for our team to salute the countless Californians who have committed to keeping the communities safe during this difficult time in our nation,” said Lt. Col. John Caldwell, Thunderbirds commander and leader, in a statement. “We hope to give onlookers a touching display of American resolve that honors those serving on the front line in our fight against COVID-19.”

The Thunderbirds fly over Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach on Friday as a salute California's front-line COVID-19 responders. The original flight path showed the Thunderbirds were supposed to fly along the coastline, but instead flew more inland over Balboa Peninsula.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Other flyovers have taken place in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Georgia and Texas.

“We are honored by the Air Force Thunderbirds’ grand gesture and incredibly grateful for the support. This beautiful display of strength and hope was truly inspiring and uplifting for our caregivers,” said Carrie Arneth Miller, a spokeswoman for Mission Hospital both in Laguna Beach and Mission Viejo.

“This is one of the best ways for the Armed Forces to do something special [to honor us] as heroes when it’s really them who are the heroes,” Christina Anderson, a nurse in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, said.

The Thunderbirds fly south over Huntington Beach on Friday.
The Thunderbirds fly south over Huntington Beach on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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