The body of a missing U.S. fighter pilot was recovered in the Adriatic Sea Thursday, three days after Capt. Lucas Gruenther was reported missing. Gruenther, 32, went missing during a night training flight off the coast of Italy on Monday. His family announced the sad news through a statement from the U.S. Air Force.
“A compassionate husband, a loving son, and a devoted brother, Luc leaves behind a family who loves him dearly and a legacy of achievement,” the statement said. “We will never fully recover from our loss, but take heart in the knowledge that during his all-too-short time in this world, he made a significant difference in the lives of all whom he met.”
Pieces of an F-16 fighter jet, the plane Gruenther was flying, were earlier found floating in the northern Adriatic. The Union Democrat of Sonora, Calif., reported that the pilot married his high school sweetheart, Cassy, after they graduated from the same high school in Northern California in 1999. The couple was expecting their first child.
Gruenther graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2003 and served in Afghanistan for six months before being stationed in Italy.
Gruenther’s family had kept up hope even after the debris was found in the ocean, in part because his helmet had been found in good condition.
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“If anyone could survive something like this, it would be Luc,” Cassy wrote on a family blog hosted on an Air Force website. “Luc is a self-reliant outdoorsman who would sleep every night under the stars if he could. He’s a skydiver, he’s a rock climber and he’s a certified scuba diver. He is also a health nut and in great shape.”
Both Italian and American military participated in the search for the missing pilot and found pieces of his parachute along with his helmet and plane debris. The Gruenther family thanked “people around the world for your messages and your prayers,” as well as “the many people who volunteered their time and resources to help bring Luc home.”