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Remains of U.S. balloonists missing over Adriatic Sea since September are found

December 6, 2010 | 12:00 pm

Balloonists Carol Rymer Davis, left, and Richard Abruzzo launch for the Gordon Bennett balloon race at Bristol, England. An Italian fishing boat pulled the remains of the two Americans from the Adriatic Sea on Monday, ending a two-month hunt for the pair's bodies. The remains of two American balloonists who disappeared over the Adriatic Sea while participating in September's Gordon Bennett International Gas Balloon Race have been found.

Associated Press reports that the Italian fishing vessel "Sharon" pulled the remains of Richard Abruzzo, 47, of Albuquerque, and Carol Rymer Davis, 65, of Denver, from the Adriatic Sea on Monday, ending a two-month hunt for the pair's bodies.

The boat hauled in the balloon and its gondola with the bodies still inside while it was out fishing 11 miles north of Vieste, Italy, before dawn, said Cmdr. Guido Limongelli of the Vieste port, located on Italy's eastern Adriatic coast. He said that documents found in the gondola confirmed the identities as those of the missing balloonists.

As soon as those aboard the fishing boat discovered what was in its nets, it alerted Vieste port officials, who sent out a patrol boat to escort the vessel back to port, Limongelli said. A coroner was performing an autopsy and officials were investigating to determine what might have caused the balloon to crash.

The gondola seemed to be remarkably intact: the outer wicker frame had a few holes punched in it, and cords, canvas flaps and ropes were still attached to the inside. A heap of torn white fabric appeared to be the balloon shell itself.

The veteran balloonists had been participating in the 54th Gordon Bennett race when contact was lost Sept. 29 as they flew over the Adriatic. They had taken off with about 20 other teams from the English city of Bristol on Sept. 25.

Search crews looked for Abruzzo and Davis for a week before determining that their craft had plunged toward the water at 50 mph and they likely didn't survive.

Don Cameron, flight director for the 2010 Gordon Bennett race, said he wasn't sure if the deaths would affect race rules in the future but said he expected the issue would be raised. He also said that it would be interesting to look at the balloon material itself to determine if there were burns on it, indicating a possible fire that may have contributed to the crash.

The balloon wasn't equipped with a black-box-type recorder that might have provided additional clues, though it did have a tracker and transponder onboard that allowed air traffic controllers to determine the balloon's rate of descent in the final moments of flight.

Cameron said he hoped Monday's discovery could provide some solace for the families.

"It's better than just not knowing anything," said Cameron, adding that examining the wreckage could also help answer questions and "throw some light on the reasons why this happened."

-- Kelly Burgess
twitter.com/latimesoutposts

Photo: Balloonists Carol Rymer Davis, left, and Richard Abruzzo launch for the Gordon Bennett balloon race at Bristol, England. An Italian fishing boat pulled the remains of the two Americans from the Adriatic Sea on Monday, ending a two-month hunt for the pair's bodies. Credit: Robin Macey / Associated Press