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.
special Courtesy of the Gruenther family
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.