Aviano launches several F-16s to join search operation as parachute is recovered in the Adriatic Sea

In order to provide further assistance to the rescue operation that is already underway in the Adriatic Sea, the 31st Fighter Wing has tasked and launched several of its F-16 aircraft in the last couple of days to find the pilot missing since Jan. 28.

F-16 Aviano

Image credit: Monica De Guidi/VRN Spotter Group

Capt. Lucas Gruenther was flying a nighttime training sortie within a 4-ship flight when contact was lost with his aircraft as it was flying inside a restricted airspace located above the sea.

The F-16 have used their targeting pods to scan the search area:  “While not specifically designed for reconnaissance like the other aircraft already involved in the search, our F-16s have targeting pods which can be used to augment the search,” said Brig. Gen Scott J. Zobrist, 31st Fighter Wing commander.

On Jan. 30, a parachute possibly belonging to the missing pilot was found in the water 15 km off Cervia. Although it’s still unclear whether it belongs to Capt. Gruenther or not but it could be a sign that the pilot ejected before his plane crashed into the sea.

Update Jan. 31, 2013 17.00 GMT

The body of Capt. Gruenther was found in the Adriatic Sea.

F-16 Aviano takeoff

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. I can only hope from the bottom of my heart that he’s alive and well. The chute being found is a major plus, since I’d say a pilot would still be alive and well if he hit the water safely– it’s in the training. Let’s just hope they didn’t find an unused survival raft.

    I trust in the ACES II, but this may have been a case of spacial disorientation in the dark, which means he probably wouldn’t of been aware that he’s descending until a very low altitude. Sadly, that doesn’t change even if you’re an experienced pilot; you still find yourself thinking you’re going up when you’re going down.

    Depending on the angle of attack(I’d expect it was low, maybe -30 degrees) and airspeed(probably crusing, maybe 400-500 knots) the ACES II would only need 300-400 feet. The problem is how long it would’ve taken him to figure out his altitude and eject, and with that much momentum, it could have caused issues.

    That said, water crashes aren’t as explosive, which gives a higher probability of surviving an ejection; being as you don’t need to watch out for the burning hell below you.

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