Bodies of missing US balloonists found off Italy

Richard Abruzzo at the race launch site in September The hydrogen balloon went missing in a thunderstorm over the Adriatic

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The bodies of two missing American balloonists have been found off the Italian coast, Italian officials say.

Richard Abruzzo, 47, and Carol Rymer Davis, 65, were competing in a long-distance race when they disappeared over the Adriatic Sea in bad weather.

The balloon's gondola with their bodies still inside was hauled from the water by a fishing boat, an official said.

The balloon's last signals showed it heading towards the sea at a speed of 80km/h (50 mph).

The Italian coastguard and officials from the port of Vieste, near where the bodies were recovered, said documents found in the gondola confirmed the identities of both balloonists.

Their relatives were heading to Italy for formal identification, the coastguard said.

Gordon Bennett race

Post-mortem examinations are being performed and an investigation has been launched to determine what caused the balloon to crash.

Davis and Abruzzo were participating in the Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race. The objective is to travel the furthest distance on one fill of hydrogen gas.

The pair took off in their balloon, USA2, from a launch field near Bristol in England on 25 September, along with 19 other teams.

Their last contact was with the Italian coastguard on the morning of 29 September when they reported bad weather over the Adriatic.

The weather was stormy at the time, with high winds and lightning, Italian media reports said.

The Italian coastguard called off their search after six days, having found no trace of the pair or their balloon.

Cmdr Guido Limongelli of the port of Vieste said a fishing boat caught the gondola and balloon in its nets early on Monday about 17km (11 miles) north of Vieste.

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

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

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