U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - The U.S. Air Force Academy says a 2003 academy graduate has been identified as the pilot of an F-16 that went missing during a night training flight over the Adriatic Sea on Monday.
Capt. Lucas Gruenther was the chief of flight safety for the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base, Italy.
Gruenther, 32, of Twain Harte, Calif., was flying part of a four-jet formation during a night training flight when contact was lost with his aircraft, according to the Air Force Times. The Italian news agency Ansa reported that the aircraft had reported a problem with the last radio contact.
Officials dispatched Italian aircraft and ships to the jet’s last known location.
The Air Force said Italian rescue teams recovered debris from the Adriatic that is believed to belong to Gruenther's F-16, but he remains missing.
The search is continuing. 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, the U.S. Air Force reported.
"We are dedicating all available resources to the search and rescue operation," Brig. Gen Scott J. Zobrist, 31st Fighter Wing commander, said 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 and his wife Cassy are expecting their first child in two to three weeks, the Modesto 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."
Before being assigned to Aviano Air Base, Gruenther was an instructor pilot at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.