Tragedy as body of missing Air Force pilot found off the coast of Italy three days after his F-16 crashed into sea - leaving behind his pregnant wife weeks before she's due
- F-16 of Capt. Lucas Gruenther went missing off the coast of Italy on Monday during training exercise
- Gruenther was stationed with his wife Cassy at Aviano Air Force Base
- Rescue workers recovered body on Thursday afternoon; the California native leaves behind his wife and unborn daughter, Serene
By Beth Stebner
PUBLISHED:23:27 EST, 31 January 2013| UPDATED:23:28 EST, 31 January 2013
Loss: Capt. Lucas Gruenther's body was recovered several miles off the coast of Italy on Thursday
The body of a U.S. fighter pilot has been recovered from Italy’s Adriatic Sea Thursday, days after he went missing while piloting an F-16.
Capt. Lucas Gruenther’s body was recovered early Thursday afternoon by an Italian vessel seven miles from the coast.
The 32-year-old captain had been missing since Monday, after the Air Force lost contact with him; he was flying an F-16 Falcon.
During the frantic search, Capt. Gruenther’s family kept their hopes high. His wife, Cassy, remained optimistic as the search went on. ‘If anyone could survive something like this, it would be Luc,’ she said from her home in northern Italy.
Mrs Gruenther, who is weeks away from delivering their first child, Serene, said yesterday that she had faith that her husband was coming home.
‘If he has his mind set on something, he will find a way to make it happen,’ she told the Aviano Air Force Base blog. ‘If he wants to do something, he finds a way to do it.’
Mrs Gruenther added on Wednesday that her husband was highly active in the local community, and learned Italian at lightning speed, and added that he had aspirations of making a lifetime career out of the Air Force.
Embrace: Cassy Gruenther hugs her husband, Lucas before he flies of for a mission; the two were high school sweethearts
Expecting: Cassy Gruenther is expecting the couple's first child, a daughter they planned to name Serene
Following the discovery of his body off the coast of Pesaro, the Gruenther family released a statement expressing their grief and thanking those who searched tirelessly to recover him.
‘A compassionate husband, a loving son, and a devoted brother, Luc leaves behind a family who loves him dearly and a legacy of achievement.
'We will never fully recover from our loss, but take heart in the knowledge that during his all-too-shirt time in this world, he made a significant difference in the lives of all whom he met.
‘We would like to thank the people around the world for your messages and your prayers. We especially want to extend our deepest gratitude to the many people who volunteered their time and resources to help bring Luc home.’
World travelers: The young couple traveled around the globe and documented their travels in a blog
Adventurous: Mrs Gruenther said that her husband was very brave and had hope to the last that he would be found alive
On Wednesday, search crews located his parachute and helmet scattered among the debris floating in the water. Even so, Mrs Gruenther held onto hope, saying that the helmet was found in good condition.
Brig. Gen. Schott J. Zobrist, 31st FW commander said in a statement: ‘Capt. Gruenther was an outstanding officer who epitomized what it means to be an Airman. He was not only a first-rate pilot; he was an exceptional leader whose presence will be sorely missed.’
He added that his ‘thoughts and prayers’ were with his surviving family members.
According to the Modesto Bee, Capt. Gruenther was from Twain Harte, California; he and Cassy were high school sweethearts.
She documented the many travels she took with her husband on a personal blog.
Capt. Gruenther was a graduate of the Air Force Academy and flew multiple combat missions during a six-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2011.
Missing: The Air Force searched the Adriatic Sea after losing contact with a U.S. fighter jet during a training mission off the coast of Italy; an F-16 is pictured at the base in this photo
The paramilitary Carabinieri force deployed helicopters, the Italian coast guard had motorboats in the area and Italian air force helicopters were also involved.
The search was being concentrated in the waters off a roughly a 9.5 mile stretch of coast between Cervia and Cesenatico in the northwestern end of the Adriatic.
Italian news agency LaPresse said the F-16 had sent an alarm signal to Aviano before it disappeared, and that three other F-16s that were flying in the same training mission made it safely back to Aviano base.
Location: Aviano Air Force Base is located in northern Italy
Read more: Lucas Gruenther: Body of Air Force captain found in Adriatic Sea leaving behind wife Cassy and unborn daughter | Mail Online
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