An Italian fishing boat on Monday discovered the remains of two American balloonists missing over the Adriatic Sea since September 29, a port official said.

The boat hauled in the balloon gondola with the bodies of the Americans still inside while fishing 11 miles (17 kilometers) north of Vieste in southern Puglia before dawn, said Cmdr. Guido Limongelli of the Vieste port.

He said documents found in the gondola confirmed the identities of Richard Abruzzo, 47, of Albuquerque, and Carol Rymer Davis, 65, of Denver.

The two were participating in the 54th Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race when contact was lost on September 29 as they flew over the Adriatic. Search crews looked for the veteran balloonists in vain for nearly a week before determining their craft had plunged towards the water at 50 mph (80 kph) and that they likely didn’t survive.

As soon as the fishing boat discovered what was in its nets it alerted port officials in Vieste, who sent out a patrol boat to escort the vessel back to port, Cmdr. Limongelli said. A coroner was performing an autopsy and officials were investigating to determine what might have caused the balloon to crash.

The disappearance of the champion balloonists had cast a pall over the ballooning community.

The Abruzzo name in particular is synonymous with ballooning. Abruzzo was the son of famed balloonist Ben Abruzzo, who was in 1981 part of the first team to cross the Pacific Ocean by balloon, and who was killed in a small airplane crash in 1985.

The younger Abruzzo and Davis 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.

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