- Associated Press - Monday, October 4, 2010

ROME (AP) — The Italian coast guard said Monday that it had called off the search for a pair of American balloonists who disappeared last week in the Adriatic Sea.

The search was called off at 3:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. EDT) after a final attempt to locate Richard Abruzzo of Albuquerque, N.M., and Dr. Carol Rymer Davis of Denver failed, coast guard spokesman Lt. Massimo Maccheroni said.

Lt. Maccheroni said that a robotic vehicle scanned the seabed of the Adriatic for any remains.

“We found nothing that could be traced to the balloonists,” he told the Associated Press.

The veteran pilots were flying in the 54th Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race when contact was lost Wednesday over the Adriatic. Race organizers said the two plunged toward the water at 50 mph and likely didn’t survive.

Since then, search-and-rescue teams with the Italian coast guard and the U.S. Navy and Croatian coastal aircraft crews have been scouring the Adriatic. Over the weekend, divers joined in the search, as hope was beginning to fade.

On Monday, in a last attempt, the robotic vehicle plunged to depths of 656 feet to photograph the seabed off Vieste, in Puglia, where the balloon was believed to have crashed.

Lt. Maccheroni said the robot scanned an area where an aircraft a day earlier had spotted something. But nothing related to the balloon or the pilots was found, he said. Strong sea currents can drag both relics and bodies very far away from a presumed point of impact, Lt. Maccheroni said.

News that the search had ended quickly reached the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico.

“Everybody is getting into the fiesta now and trying to move forward. I think we have accepted the fact they’re probably not coming back,” said Troy Bradley, who with Mr. Abruzzo in 1992 piloted the first balloon to fly from North America to Africa.

Mr. Abruzzo, 47, and Dr. Davis, 65, won the 2004 edition of the Gordon Bennett race and the 2003 America’s Challenge gas race — one of Mr. Abruzzo’s five victories in that race.

Mr. Abruzzo worked 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. Mr. Abruzzo’s involvement focused on ski area management.

Dr. Davis was a radiologist who specialized in reading breast mammograms.

The decision to call off the search was made by Rear Adm. Salvatore Giuffre, who was coordinating the search efforts in southern Italy.

Associated Press writer Tim Korte in Albuquerque contributed to this report.


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