US and Italian search teams on Tuesday continued efforts in the Adriatic Sea to find and rescue Capt. Lucas Gruenther, the F-16 pilot from Aviano AB, Italy, who is missing after his airplane presumably went down in the water on Monday during a nighttime training mission. Aviano officials identified Gruenther as the missing pilot on Tuesday. He is chief of flight safety for Aviano’s 31st Fighter Wing. “We are dedicating all available resources to the search and rescue operation,” said Brig. Gen Scott Zobrist, 31st FW commander, in a base release on Jan. 29. Throughout Tuesday, more US assets joined the effort, including an Air Force HC-130 and a rotation of Navy P-3s, states the release. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Captain Gruenther and his family,” continued Zobrist. “I am hopeful that we will bring him home safely.” After Aviano officials lost contact with Gruenther on Jan. 28, Italian aircraft and ships were quickly dispatched to his jet’s last-known location: 10 nautical miles to 15 nm east of Cervia, Italy. Italian search teams on Tuesday recovered debris in the water believed to belong to Gruenther’s F-16. (See Aviano’s Facebook page for updates.)
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.