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Air Force IDs F-16 pilot missing in Adriatic

Jan. 29, 2013 - 10:40AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 29, 2013 - 10:40AM  |  
An airman marshals an F-16 for refueling Dec. 12, 2012 at Aviano Air Base, Italy. An F-16 based at Aviano crashed in the Adriatic Sea on Jan. 28 during a training mission.
An airman marshals an F-16 for refueling Dec. 12, 2012 at Aviano Air Base, Italy. An F-16 based at Aviano crashed in the Adriatic Sea on Jan. 28 during a training mission. (Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez / Air Force)
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The Air Force has identified the F-16 pilot missing in the Adriatic Sea as the chief of flight safety for the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base, Italy.

Capt. Lucas Gruenther was flying a training sortie in an F-16 when contact was lost with his aircraft at about 8 p.m. Monday. Officials dispatched Italian aircraft and ships to the jet's last known location, about 10 to 15 nautical miles east of Cervia.

Officials on Tuesday recovered debris believed to belong to the jet. Officials have found no sign of Gruenther.

An Air Force HC-130 from U.S. Africa Command and a rotation of Navy P-3 Orions from U.S. Naval Forces Europe have joined in the search.

"We are dedicating all available resources to the search and rescue operation," said Brig. Gen Scott J. Zobrist, 31st Fighter Wing commander, in a statement. "I'm grateful to the many Italian and U.S. professionals who are executing this mission. I am hopeful that we will bring him home safely.

Gruenther, 32, was flying as part of a four-jet formation during a night training flight from the Italian base. Italian news agency Ansa reported that the aircraft had reported a problem with the last radio contact.

Gruenther, of Twain Harte, Calif., had previously served as an instructor pilot at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, and was a graduate of the Air Force Academy. His family was notified of his disappearance on Monday, according to the Modesto Bee.

Gruenther and his wife Casey are expecting their first child in two to three weeks, the Bee reported.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Capt. Gruenther and his family," Zobrist said. "I personally appreciate the efforts of the many people who are supporting the Gruenthers in this difficult time."

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