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Search Ends for Missing U.S. Balloonists

American balloonists Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer-Davis

October 4, 2010 — How can a big gas balloon just disappear?

That’s the question plaguing friends and family members of a pair of missing balloonists who were flying in the 54th Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race.

The Associated Press reported today that the Italian coast guard has called off the search for Richard Abruzzo, 47, of Albuquerque, N.M., and Carol Rymer-Davis, 65, of Denver, after a robotic vehicle scanning the seabed of the Adriatic Sea failed to find any sign of the two or the balloon. The veteran pilots were last heard from on September 29 while flying above the Adriatic Sea. Thunderstorms were present in the area.

The balloon was equipped with a satellite telephone, VHF radios, radar transponder and two mobile telephones, as well as with survival suits, lifejackets and two single-person life rafts.

On Friday, race organizers said that radar showed the balloon had plunged into the Adriatic at 50 mph and that the two likely didn't survive. According to a statement from race organizers: “The Gordon Bennett 2010 Control Centre has examined the transponder readings from Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer-Davis’ balloon, registration N801NM, and calculated the change in height of the balloon over the time period recorded. The data show that the balloon had a moderate descent rate initially which then increased into a high rate of descent, to around 50 mph. This is very pessimistic information. It is the opinion of the Gordon Bennett 2010 Flight Control Team that the balloon appears to have suffered a sudden and unexpected failure.”

For the final search, the coast guard was using a robotic vehicle that plunges to depths of 656 feet to photograph the seabed off Vieste, in Puglia, where the balloon was believed to have crashed. "We found nothing that could be traced to the balloonists," coast guard spokesman Lt. Massimo Maccheroni told The Associated Press.

Previously, the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre had used several aircraft, four boats and one helicopter to search sea and coastal areas. In addition, the U.S and Croatian military helped with the search.

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