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Body of missing California fighter pilot found in Adriatic Sea

January 31, 2013 | 10:18 am

PilotThe body of a missing fighter pilot from Northern California was recovered Thursday in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Italy, his family announced.

The body of Capt. Lucas Gruenther, whose F-16 fighter jet went missing Monday during a nighttime training exercise over the Adriatic Sea, was found Thursday afternoon, according to a statement from his family released by the U.S. Air Force.

Italian and American military participated in the search effort, which this week recovered debris from the aircraft, including Gruenther's parachute and helmet.

Gruenther, 32, grew up in Tuolumne County's Twain Harte, The Union-Democrat reported. He was chief of flight safety for the 31st Fighter Wing and stationed at Aviano Air Base in Italy.

In the statement, his family thanked "people around the world for your messages and your prayers" and "the many people who volunteered their time and resources to help bring Luc home."

"A compassionate husband, a loving son, and a devoted brother, Luc leaves behind a family who loves him dearly and a legacy of achievement," his family 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."

The Union-Democrat said Gruenther's mother flew to Italy on Tuesday with his mother-in-law. His wife, high school sweetheart Cassy Williams, is living in Italy and expecting the couple's first child, the paper said.

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— Kate Mather

Follow Kate Mather on Twitter or Google+.

Photo: Capt. Lucas Gruenther in a 2003 photo. Credit: U.S. Air Force

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