News>Family of missing Air Force pilot expresses optimism for his safe return
Cassy Gruenther embraces her husband, Capt. Lucas Gruenther, 31st Fighter Wing chief of flight safety, after returning from a deployment in 2011. Gruenther, 32, has been missing since officials at Aviano Air Base lost contact with the captain’s F-16 fighter jet Jan. 28 during a nighttime training mission over the Adriatic Sea.
1/30/2013 - MANIAGO, Italy -- "If anyone could survive something like this, it would be Luc."
Cassy Gruenther spoke the words with full confidence sitting on the couch of her home in northeast Italy.
Her husband, Air Force Capt. Lucas Gruenther, 32, has been missing since officials at Aviano Air Base lost contact with the captain's F-16 fighter jet Jan. 28 during a nighttime training mission over the Adriatic Sea.
"Luc is a self-reliant outdoorsmen who would sleep every night under the stars if he could," Cassy added. "He's a sky diver, he's a rock climber and he's a certified scuba diver. He is also a health nut and in great shape."
A 2003 Air Force Academy graduate, Gruenther's selection as a fighter pilot was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, according to his family.
"Luc has wanted to be a pilot since he was a little boy," said Romel Mathias, Gruenther's mother. "And, he did everything he had to do to get there. That's what he does with everything in his life. If he wants to do something, he finds a way to do it."
"That's why I know he's coming home," added Cassy, who is pregnant and just weeks from delivering the couple's first child, Serene. "If he has his mind set on something, he will find a way to make it happen. He'll find a way; whatever he has to do."
The massive search effort has included aircraft and ships from the United States and Italy. According to the family, the U.S. military has confirmed finding debris from the aircraft including Gruenther's drogue parachute and his helmet.
"The drogue chute is a good sign," said Cassy. "It means he ejected, and we've been told the helmet is in good condition."
The captain's family is not alone in their optimism as thousands of friends and well-wishers posted messages and sent in their support for the Gruenthers.
"The support we've had has been amazing," added Kerry Williams, Cassy's mother. "We've received emails and Facebook posts from every state and from around the world. A local trail runners association has even scheduled a run for him this Saturday. We just can't express in words how grateful we are for the support, especially the support we've received from the rescue teams and volunteers out searching for Luc."
The captain's supporters also include many from the local Italian community. The Gruenther's are heavily involved in their community, leading the Maniago township's chapter of the Vicini Americani (or American Neighbors) program, which helps to build friendships between the American and Italian families in the communities outside the base.
"He loves culture and he loves languages," Cassy said. "He studies every night and was able to speak Italian fluently after our first year here. He also loves helping Italians who ask for help with their English. He's built many friendships with Italians as they work together on pronunciation and finding the perfect word."
Cassy said that her husband has no plans to leave the Air Force any time soon and that he has the potential to 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," she said. "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."
Mathias echoed her daughter-in-law's comments.
"He served six months in Afghanistan where his mission was to support ground troops," said Mathias. "We remember Luc saying that the greatest day on deployment was when he got to meet the Soldiers he supported with air cover during an operation."
NOTE: This article is released on behalf of the Gruenther family with their permission. Per the family's request all media inquiries should be directed through the 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs office at 31FW.PA2@us.af.mil or (+39) 0434 30 7555.
2/5/2013 9:07:50 AM ET condoglianze alla famiglia del capitano pilota f16e alla base di aviano-us.air.force.riposa in pace
2/1/2013 1:24:21 PM ET Sentite condoglianze alla famiglia del pilotaCiao Lucas.
Matteo, Rimini Italy
2/1/2013 7:18:01 AM ET My heart goes out to you my brother also flies and graduated from the academy 2 years behind Luc. I appreciate Lucs service and sacrifice. May you have peace and find joy in the years to come.
Emily Allis, Maine
2/1/2013 5:46:40 AM ET My wife and I are so sorry for the loss of Capt. Gruenther. It always seems so sad when someone so young is taken from those who love them. As time moves on we only remember the good from someones life when they are taken from us.
Ronald Lakeman, Columbus ga.
1/31/2013 6:01:39 PM ET My prayers are with Luc's wife and family. My friend just lost a 16 year old son last week and I understand the pain all too well. The sadness and personal pain are enormous but I have hope that God will make it all very plain. We pray for you.
Corey Fleig, Santa Clarita CA
1/31/2013 5:32:26 PM ET Sending love and prayers from Vermont.May God surround you with comfort and love.
1/31/2013 2:54:33 PM ET Our hearts and minds are with the Gruenthers. As the wife of a fighter pilot who sounds so much like Luc I know all of us spouses are with you at this difficult time....
Heidi Rider, Nellis AFB
1/31/2013 1:53:48 PM ET Sentite condoglianze alla famiglia del capitano scomparso
Barbara masini , Cervia ITALY
1/31/2013 1:14:10 PM ET I pray and look forward to Luc's safe reunion with his family ...
Julian Begg, Dunkeld Scotland
1/31/2013 11:48:48 AM ET Praying for you and your family and safe return of your husband. He sounds like a wonderful man.
Suzanne McArdle, Sigonella Naval Base Sicily
1/31/2013 11:36:35 AM ET Vive condoglianze alla Famiglia ed ai Colleghi ed Amici di Aviano AB
Maurizio Venturi, Meldola FC Italy
1/31/2013 11:13:16 AM ET May God bless with His great love the family of Capt.Cassy Gruenther in this terrible day.God bless America
Samuele Roncati, ITALY
1/31/2013 11:09:37 AM ET Praying for this family.
Jackie, Montgomery AL
1/31/2013 10:22:24 AM ET Praying praying praying- for Luc the family and the rescue workers.
Natalie, Visalia California
1/31/2013 9:55:00 AM ET As the mother in law of an Air Force SS our hearts go out to the family. they too are in Italy and know this Officer. We pray that he is found alive and well and coming home soon.
Stephanie Graves, Grand Coulee WA
1/31/2013 9:28:42 AM ET I hope with all my heart that this situation will be resolved in the best way. Unfortunately I know what it's like to live this terrible experience. Courage.
Luca, Milano - Italy
1/31/2013 9:03:09 AM ET Prayers prayers prayers going out for your husband and your entire familyI can't wait to see the cover story on my MSN homepage AF Captain returns home safely just in time for child's birth
Megan Brady , Ft. Bragg NC
1/31/2013 8:57:48 AM ET I have visited Aviano AFB few times and I have always found kind and professional people. I have been in the States to flying always finding nice persons. You have a challenging job to perform and we know you do it as safe as you can. I hope you can have your pilot back to base and most important back to his family.
1/31/2013 8:18:20 AM ET Praying for his safe return....
Erika B, Alexandria VA
1/31/2013 8:07:19 AM ET we must believe..good luck
falconer, Prague Czech Republic Europe
1/31/2013 6:55:41 AM ET Our thoughts and prayers are with the Gruenther family and the entire 31st Fighter Wing...Return With Honor
Dave Collins, San Antonio TX
1/31/2013 6:30:11 AM ET My Husband and I are prying for a safe return of Luc. With God ALL things are possible.
1/31/2013 6:13:08 AM ET Me and my pilot are keeping our fingers crossed and praying for your pilot to come back soon and safe and sound..
1/31/2013 6:04:31 AM ET Hoping and praying for his safe return.
Martin Scarff, Staffordshire UK
1/31/2013 5:43:10 AM ET I'm an ITAF pilot who had the honour to undergo pilot training with this wonderful and special guy in 2005 at ENJJPT... HE HAS THE STUFF TO GET THROUGH THIS... Praying for him and is wonderful and strong wife Cassy Hang in there
Valerio Piras, Rome Italy
1/31/2013 5:27:15 AM ET I sincerly hope for his safe return
massimo maiolo, Venice Italy
1/31/2013 1:46:52 AM ET Many prayers light and love for the family and friends for this brave Capt.
Tisha Gonzalez, Aviano AB Italy
1/30/2013 11:20:43 PM ET Prayers from Virginia With confidence that this young man will return to his family and squadron and continue to serve both in good health
Trish, Arlington VA
1/30/2013 10:56:01 PM ET Praying for his safe trip home...
Crystie Macormac, United States
1/30/2013 9:38:32 PM ET We are praying for the safe return of this soldier. Our hearts go out to the family and friends. May God's peace be with you all.
RMSKagg, Tyndall AFB FL
1/30/2013 9:28:54 PM ET Happy to hear that there are some good signs here. Will be more than happy to utilize that most powerful of all forces again-- PRAYER Miracles happen and that would be a beautiful and happy ending to this story
1/30/2013 8:47:17 PM ET I'm praying for his safe return.
1/30/2013 8:32:22 PM ET My prayers go out to this family and the rescuers that search for Captain Gruenther. My son is Air Force also and I know all is being done to bring him home safely.
Cathy Okenica, Binghamton NY
1/30/2013 6:55:00 PM ET Loved my tour at Aviano miss my Italian friends Pray for his safe return to his family. USAF RetTSgt David Ballentine.