Dr. Benjamin Bonnes takes a selfie as four California Air National Guard F-15 jets fly over Kaiser Permanente's Richmond campus Wednesday morning. The flyover was part of a statewide tribute to health care workers and first responders. (Photo by Sam Richards/Bay City News Foundation)

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Dr. Benjamin Bonnes is an emergency room doctor at Kaiser Permanente’s Richmond campus, and he was looking to the skies Wednesday morning.

A few minutes before four F-15 tactical fighter jets flew over the Richmond hospital, he said he wouldn’t have minded being up there himself in one of those jets. He’s flown in them before, even taken the controls on occasion.

“Any opportunity to fly is amazing,” said Bonnes, who also is an occupational medicine physician with the California Air National Guard, checking pilots’ health for flight readiness. “And I rarely get to mix my civilian world and my military world.”

The four California National Guard F-15s flew over the East Bay and South Bay Wednesday as part of a fast flight up and down the state as a tribute to health care workers and first responders, especially in the era of COVID-19.

About 200 Kaiser workers gathered on the roof of the Richmond complex’s parking garage to watch the flyover; many others were watching from other nearby, lower-altitude vantage points.

The jets then headed south over several other East Bay and South Bay medical centers.

The F-15s, based in Fresno, took off about 10 a.m. Wednesday, heading north over the San Joaquin Valley to Sacramento, turned southwest toward the Bay Area before heading directly to flyovers in the greater Los Angeles area before heading back to Fresno. That entire loop route was designed to take about 2.5 hours.

It was an aeronautical (and geographically broader) version of a caravan of Alameda County police, fire, ambulance and other first-responder vehicles that did drive-by salutes last Thursday to workers at four Oakland medical centers, including Kaiser’s Oakland campus.

Just as workers there were excited and appreciative of that salute, so too were Kaiser Richmond personnel on Wednesday. Julie Rossie texted her husband as the jets approached from Sacramento, so he could watch them fly over, too.

“It’s the connection with the entire state,” said Rossie, an emergency clinical nurse specialist at Kaiser Richmond. “We’re all experiencing this; it’s like we’re all linked.”

Tia Yarborough, an ER nurse manager, said the flyover was both a moment she’ll look back on both as a signpost memory of a historically trying time, and as a short but welcome break from the churn.

“It’s just a nice, positive moment for us, that they’d take the time to do that,” Yarborough said.

Bonnes took selfies with the jets as they roared overhead.

“What better way for these pilots to get their (necessary) flying hours than to help honor all the medical personnel?” he said. “It’s a great thing.”