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Body of missing Air Force pilot is recovered off Italian coast

Published: Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 9:21 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — MODESTO, Calif. — Search crews have located the body of an Air Force pilot from California missing since his plane went down in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Italy on Monday.

The Italian Coast Guard recovered the body of Lucas Gruenther on Thursday afternoon seven miles from the coastal town of Pesaro.

Gruenther, 32, of Twain Harte, had been missing since the Air Force lost contact with him during a night-time sortie Monday. On Tuesday, searchers found wreckage from the F-16 Fighting Falcon Gruenther flew, and on Wednesday they located a parachute and helmet.

The military released the following statement from the family:

“It is with great sadness that we announce that the body of Captain Lucas Gruenther was found in the Adriatic Sea this afternoon. 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-short 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.”

Gruenther was an Air Force Academy graduate and flew several combat sorties during a six-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2011, the military said in a news release.

Gruenther served with the 31st Fighter Wing and was stationed in Italy. Brig. Gen. Scott J. Zobrist, commander of the 31st, called Gruenther “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.”

A board of officers will investigate the incident.

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