England

Tributes paid to US balloonists after remains are found

Pilots Carol Rymer Davis and Richard Abruzzo
Image caption Carol Rymer Davis and Richard Abruzzo were taking part in The Gordon Bennett Cup race

Tributes have been paid to two US balloonists who went missing three months ago and whose remains have been found in the Adriatic Sea.

Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis disappeared in thunderstorms on 29 September during the Gordon Bennett race, which started near Bristol.

Flight director Clive Bailey said: "It's a huge loss to the ballooning fraternity worldwide."

An Italian coastguard said a fishing boat made the discovery near Vieste.

'Formula 1'

Mr Bailey, who was flight director for the British balloonist David Hempleman-Adams, added: "They were very competitive - they won the race in 2004 and it's very tragic.

"General hot air ballooning is proven to be the safest form of aviation but the Gordon Bennett gas balloon race is the equivalent of Formula 1 racing and it brings with it some risks."

Rob Bayly, crew chief for Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis, said: "It's incredibly sad because any glimmer of hope has now gone - particularly around Christmas for their families.

"They'll be able to grieve - the period of uncertainty is over. It's what most people were expecting.

"Right now it's about the emotions but later we will look at the remains of the aircraft and see what we can learn."

Gordon Bennett race director Don Cameron said: "It's very sad news but it was of course expected.

'Give closure'

"It will give closure to the families. Having absolutely no information at all has been very distressing for them."

Richard Abruzzo, 47, from Albuquerque, was the son of balloonist Ben Abruzzo, who was part of the first team to cross the Pacific Ocean by balloon in 1981.

Ben Abruzzo was killed in a small plane crash in 1985 and a museum in Albuquerque is dedicated to his memory.

Last week Richard Abruzzo's wife, Nancy, and their two young children planted a tree at the museum in memory of Richard.

Remains found

Mr Abruzzo and Ms Rymer Davis, 65, who won the race in 2004, last had contact with the Italian coastguard at 0700 BST on 29 September, when they reported bad weather conditions.

A search for the pair was started and led by the Italian Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre but was called off after almost a week.

An Italian coastguard said their remains had been found by a fishing vessel near Vieste at 0100 local time on Monday.

He said Ms Rymer Davis, from Denver, Colorado, had documentation on her.

A formal identification is yet to take place.

The Associated Press news agency quoted an Italian port official saying the fishing boat had retrieved the balloon cabin with the bodies on board.

The Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett race, one of the world's oldest aviation races, started in the UK in September for the first time in its 104-year history.

It took place in the UK because it was won by Briton David Hempleman-Adams in 2008. Next year's race will take place in France.

Teams have to try to travel the greatest distance from the launch site in hydrogen-filled balloons.

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