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California fighter pilot missing after F-16 crash in Italy

January 31, 2013 |  8:47 am

Lucas GruentherMore units are joining in on the search for a Northern California fighter pilot who went missing while flying an F-16 on Monday.

F-16 units from the 31st Fighter Wing will help the search for Tuolumne County native Lucas Gruenther, who grew up in Twain Harte. U.S. and Italian units are helping in the search.

Controllers lost contact with the F-16 about 8 p.m. Monday -- 11 a.m. PST -- while the jet was on a training flight, the U.S. Air Force reported.

The jet’s last known location was over the Adriatic Sea, about 10 to 15 nautical miles east of Cervia.

“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,” said Brig. Gen Scott J. Zobrist, 31st Fighter Wing commander in a release.

Debris that officials believe to be the wreckage of the fighter jet was found Tuesday.

Search teams have found no sign of the pilot, though they’re continuing the search, officials said.

The Union-Democrat reported 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.

Reached Tuesday afternoon, Williams’ father, Randy Williams, said the family is hoping for Gruenther's safe return.

“There’s still some high hopes,” he said. “There’s a lot of unknowns.” 

Gruenther is the grandson of former U.S. Rep. Bob Mathias, a two-time Olympic decathlon gold medalist.


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-- Fox 40 Sacramento

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