Capt. Lucas Gruenther is seen mountain climbing in Italy. (Gruenther family via Air Force)
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Cassy Gruenther embraces her husband, Capt. Lucas Gruenther, 31st Fighter Wing chief of flight safety, after he returned from a deployment in 2011. (Air Force)
Rescue crews have found the body of Air Force Capt. Lucas Gruenther, family members announced Thursday.
Gruenther, 32, had been missing since Monday after officials at Aviano Air Base, Italy, lost contact with his F-16 during a night training mission. Air Force aircraft, including F-16s from the 31st Fighter Wing, along with Navy planes and Italian rescue crews had been searching for the pilot since contact was lost.
"A compassionate husband, a loving son, and a devoted brother; Luc leaves behind a family who loves him dearly and a legacy of achievement," the Gruenther family said in a statement. "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."
Gruenther, of Twain Harte, Calif., had previously served as an instructor pilot at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, and was a 2003 graduate of the Air Force Academy.
His family was notified of his disappearance on Monday and had been holding out hope for his recovery. In a statement Wednesday night, Guenther's wife, Cassy, said that the family was expecting the birth of the couple's first child, Serene, in weeks. Guenther was planning to stay in the Air Force for a career and follow in the footsteps of his grandfather Army Gen. Alfred Gruenther, who served as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe from 1953 to 1956.
"He loves what he does," Cassy Gruenther said in the statement. "He's the kind of officer who knows the name of every maintainer out there on the flightline. I've always pictured him as a general one day, making a difference."