Divers join search for missing US balloonists but hope fades

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Divers join efforts to find US balloonists

ROME — Scuba divers joined in the search efforts Saturday for two American balloonists who went missing in the Adriatic Sea, but searchers said that hope of finding them alive is fading.

Veteran pilots Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis were participating in the 54th Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race when contact was lost Wednesday morning. Race organizers said the two plunged toward the Adriatic Sea at 50 mph (80 kph) and likely didn’t survive.

The Italian Coast Guard said a group of eight divers equipped with underwater cameras had searched in the Adriatic on Saturday. But spokesman Lt. Massimo Maccheroni said “hopes of finding them alive after four days at sea are close to zero.”

Maccheroni did not say when the search would be called off, but said “we are close to the limit.”

Abruzzo’s wife, Nancy, said in a statement that “we recognize that we are looking for a needle in a haystack.” But, she added, “we cannot rest until we find something, anything.”

She said that no “physical evidence from the balloon, the gondola, equipment or personal effects” had been found.

The woman, who has been monitoring search efforts in Bari, southern Italy, told APTN that she remained “very hopeful.”

Abruzzo, 47, of Albuquerque, New Mexico and Davis, 65, of Denver, Colorado, won the 2004 edition of the Gordon Bennett race and the 2003 America’s Challenge gas race — one of Abruzzo’s five victories in that race.

Abruzzo works as part of a prominent family business in Albuquerque that is involved in real estate and operations of the Sandia Peak tramway, Sandia Ski Area and Ski Santa Fe. Richard Abruzzo’s involvement focuses on ski area management.

Davis is a radiologist who specializes in reading breast mammograms.

Rear Adm. Salvatore Giuffre, coordinating the search efforts in Bari, said that at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, “the pilot said in English that they were going down very fast toward the sea.”

“Those were the last words he said,” Giuffre told APTN. “From then on there has been no radar trace from the board transponder.”

Since then, search and rescue teams with the Italian coast guard, the U.S. Navy and Croatian coastal aircraft crews have been scouring the Adriatic Sea.

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