The family of Capt. Lucas Gruenther, a Summerville High School graduate and Air Force pilot, announced today that his body was found in the Adriatic Sea.
Gruenther, 32, was chief of flight safety for the 31st Fighter Wing and stationed at Aviano Air Base in Italy. The base lost contact with Gruenther's F-16 Fighting Falcon during a nighttime training mission over the Adriatic Sea Monday.
A statement distributed Wednesday on behalf of the family said search teams had found debris from his plane, including a parachute and helmet.
His wife, Cassy Gruenther, also a Summerville High graduate, is pregnant with the couple's first child, Serene. She is in Italy with her mother, Kerry Williams, of Tuolumne, and Gruenther's mother, Romel Mathias, who lives in Twain Harte.
"A compassionate husband, a loving son, and a devoted brother; Luc leaves behind a family who loves him dearly and a legacy of achievement," said a statement distributed by the 31st Fighter Wing on behalf of the Gruenthers.
"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," the Gruenthers said in the statement.
"We would like to thank the people around the world for your messages and your prayers. We especially want to extend our deepest gratitude to the many people who volunteered their time and resources to help bring Luc home."
Gruenther is fondly remembered by Summerville High School faculty and others in the community as a talented student leader and athlete. He participated in the Air Force Junior ROTC in high school and wanted to be a pilot since he was a boy.
Summerville High Grade Level Coordinator Mitch Heldstab described him as a patriot who led his 1999 graduating class in the Pledge of Allegiance.
"He was able to lead by example," Heldstab said.
He enjoyed the outdoors and climbed part of Yosemite's Half Dome while on a 10-day visit from Italy in May of last year.
At the time, he told The Union Democrat he loved Tuolumne County and was glad to see familiar faces after being abroad.
During the same visit, he gave a presentation at Summerville High and told students about his Air Force experiences, including his service in Afghanistan.
The students responded with enthusiasm, and lined up after his presentation to shake his hand.