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F-16s join search for pilot missing in Adriatic

Jan. 30, 2013 - 11:19AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 30, 2013 - 11:19AM  |  
This 2003 photo released by the Air Force Academy shows Capt. Lucas Gruenther. The Air Force has identified Gruenther as the pilot of an F-16 fighter jet that went missing Jan. 28 on a training mission over the Adriatic Sea.
This 2003 photo released by the Air Force Academy shows Capt. Lucas Gruenther. The Air Force has identified Gruenther as the pilot of an F-16 fighter jet that went missing Jan. 28 on a training mission over the Adriatic Sea. (Air Force Academy via AP)
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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)

F-16 pilots from the 31st Fighter Wing have joined in the search for one of their own.

Capt. Lucas Gruenther, the chief of flight safety for the 31st at Aviano Air Base, Italy, has been missing since contact was lost with his F-16 during a training mission in the Adriatic Sea around 8 p.m. Monday. The jet's last known location was about 10 to 15 nautical miles east of Cervia.

The wing announced Wednesday several F-16s were launched and have been using their targeting pods to assist the search efforts. An Air Force HC-130 from U.S. Africa Command and Navy P-3 Orions from U.S. Naval Forces Europe have been assisting Italian military and civilian craft in the search for the pilot, 31st Fighter Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Scott J. Zobrist said in a statement.

"The weather and size of the search area have limited our ability to provide assistance with F-16s up to this point, however, now that the ships and reconnaissance aircraft have refined the search area, we hope to help by putting more sensors and eyes out there."

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 the aircraft had reported a problem during 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 http://www.modbee.com/2013/01/30/2555201/search-expands-for-twain-harte.html">The Modesto Bee.

Gruenther and his wife, Cassy, 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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