AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — The wife of a pilot missing since his plane crashed Monday into the Adriatic Sea expressed confidence late Wednesday that he would return.

“If anyone could survive something like this, it would be Luc,” Cassy Gruenther was quoted as saying in a two-page statement from the family issued by the 31st Fighter Wing.

Capt. Lucas Gruenther, chief of flight safety for the wing, went missing Monday night while piloting his F-16 Fighting Falcon as part of a night training mission. He lost contact with the base and the rest of his formation while they were flying over the Adriatic.

U.S. and Italian rescuers entered a fourth day of searching for the 32-year-old Northern California native Thursday. Italian personnel found debris believed to be from his jet Tuesday.

Among the debris found were his drogue parachute and his helmet, according to the statement.

“The drogue chute is a good sign,” Cassy Gruenther said. “It means he ejected, and we’ve been told the helmet is in good condition.”

Cassy Gruenther, who is weeks away from giving birth to the couple’s first child, said her husband “… is a self-reliant outdoorsman who would sleep every night under the stars if he could. He’s a skydiver, he’s a rock climber and he’s a certified scuba diver. He is a health nut and in great shape.”

The pilot’s grandfather, Army Gen. Alfred Gruenther, served as supreme allied commander Europe from 1953 to 1956.

“Luc has wanted to be a pilot since he was a little boy,” his mother, Romel Mathias, is quoted as saying in the statement. “And he did everything he had 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.”

Cassy Gruenther said her husband picked up Italian quickly and the couple has been leading the Maniago chapter of the Vicini Americani, a program started by the base and Italian communities to foster friendship and cooperation.

Both Cassy Gruenther and Mathias said that Lucas Gruenther is a dedicated pilot who loves his job.

“He served six months in Afghanistan, where his mission was to support ground troops,” Mathias said. “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.”

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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