The body of a U.S. Air Force pilot reported missing off the coast of Italy has been found, officials said.
Captain Lucas Gruenther, 32, of Twaine Harte, Calif. was killed when his F-16 fighter jet disappeared after taking off from Aviano Air Base Monday. He was taking part in a nighttime training mission at the time of the crash.
A shipping vessel found some fragments from the plane Tuesday. According to the family, they included Gruenther's drogue parachute and helmet that was intact. His family was optimistic that he would be found alive.
Ongoing search efforts in the area were hampered by heavy fog. Then, on Wednesday, Gruenther’s body was recovered in the Adriatic Sea, officials said.
"A compassionate husband, a loving son, and a devoted brother; Luc leaves behind a family who loves him dearly and a legacy of achievement," a family statement reads.
"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."
Sacramento television station KCRA reported that Gruenther was from Twaine Harte in California’s Central Valley.
The pilot had married Cassy, his high school sweetheart, who is expecting the couple’s first child, Serene, in a few weeks.
She spoke of her husband to the base website, describing him as a "health nut" who learned to speak fluent Italian and loved to go sky diving, rock climbing and scuba diving. The couple documented many of their travels on their blog "Luc and Cassy."
Gruenther served six months in Afghanistan and was the grandson of Army Gen. Alfred Gruenther, who served as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe from 1953 to 1956.