Reporting Andrea Menniti
TWAIN HARTE (CBS13) – An Air Force F-16 jet pilot from Twain Harte has gone missing after his jet went down over the Adriatic Sea.
Air Force officials confirm losing contact when the a jet went down over the sea on Monday night during a training mission. Portions of the jet have been recovered.
The news is spreading fast in the tight-knit community of Twaine Hart.
“When you hear about this and you don’t want to believe it,” Summerville High School administrator Mitch Heldstab said.
Air Force Capt. Lucas Gruenther visited his former high school last year.
Administrators are having a tough time dealing with the fact he’s missing.
The Air Force says the pilot was the only one aboard the F-16 fighter plane when it crashed off the coast of Italy during a training mission.
“We’re hoping he was able to eject and he’s floating somewhere alive and will be reunited with his family,” Heldstab said.
Gruenther married his high school sweetheart. The couple is expecting their first child in a matter of weeks.
“It’s a tough situation like that – a new mother, the whole family situation,” Heldstab said.
While in high school, Gruenther joined the Jr. ROTC Air Force program on campus.
He ranked seventh in his class before leaving town and becoming a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Academy.
“Top Gun was the movie that inspired him to be a fighter pilot,” Heldstab said. “He wanted that rush, horsepower and thrill.”
Even though Gruenther is stationed in Italy, neighbors near his childhood home say he and his wife visit often.
“He used to babysit our kids,” neighbor Jana Bumgarner said. “He’s just a wonderful man. He has his whole life a head of him. It’s so sad.”