Search expands for Twain Harte pilot missing near Italy

01/30/2013 6:33 AM

01/30/2013 2:27 PM

The Air Force has launched several F-16 fighters to help in the search for a pilot from Twain Harte whose plane disappeared over the Adriatic Sea near Italy Monday.

The fighter jets will help several other U.S. and Italian aircraft already involved in the search for Capt. Lucas Gruenther, chief of flight safety for the 31st Fighter Wing. Gruenther, who is stationed in Italy, was conducting a nighttime training sortie when the Air Force lost contact with his aircraft.

Search teams on Tuesday recovered debris believed to be from Gruenther’s F-16 Fighting Falcon.

“While not a reconnaissance aircraft like the other aircraft already involved in the search, our F-16s have targeting pods which can be used to augment the search,” Brig. Gen Scott J. Zobrist, 31st Fighter Wing commander, said in a news release. “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, a 1999 graduate of Summerville High in Tuolumne City and his wife, Cassy, are expecting their first child in a few weeks. The two were high school sweethearts at Summerville. Gruenther’s mother and mother-in-law were headed to Italy Tuesday after being informed Gruenther was missing Monday.

“The search operation in the Adriatic is truly expansive,” Zobrist said. “I'm grateful to the many Italian and U.S. professionals who are executing this mission, and I am hopeful that we will bring Captain Gruenther home safely.”

See video of the F-16s taking off here:

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