Search Expanded for Missing U.S. Balloonists in Adriatic Sea

Colleagues' concern grows about locating Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer-Davis.

VIESTE, Itaty, Oct. 1, 2010— -- An international search has been expanded for two American balloonists, lost over the Adriatic Sea on the eve of a major world balloon festival.

Veteran pilots Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis wereparticipating in the 54th Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race whencontact was lost Wednesday. Since then, search and rescue teams with the Italian coast guard, the U.S. Navy and Croatian coastal aircraft crews have been scouring the area around Croatia's distant, uninhabited islet of Palagruza.

Four Italian coast guard vessels from ports up and down the Adriatic, as well as a coast guard plane and helicopters have scoured 1,500 square miles of the sea. American planes, responding to requests from Italian authorities for help, are joining the search according to State Department Officials.

On Friday, Italian coast guard spokesman Massimo Maccheroni told ABC Newsph that some objects were found water. They were picked up, photographed and sent to the organizers of the race via email but none so far have been identified as belonging to the balloon.

Admiral Salvatore Giuffre of the Italian Navy has taken charge of a command center located in Bari, about 70 miles south of the last known location of the U.S. team's balloon.

Despite the growing concern after two days of searching, Giuffre said the search would be intensified and expanded.

"The search is continuing; not stopping," he insisted.

Marina Haluzan, of the Croatian Ministry of Transport, told ABC News that the area where the balloon disappeared from radar, is a heavily travelled corridor for ship traffic.

American Balloon Well-Equipped

The Italian press has speculated that the balloon exploded and disintegrated, or that the crew members ditched from the balloon and became quickly separated from it during the violent storms that were happening at the time.

Abruzzo's and Davis' balloon was equipped with a satellite phone, VHF radio, radar transponder, two mobile phones and emergency location transmitter, which is designed to activate on contact with water.

Tom Miklusic, a Croatian balloon enthusiast and Abruzzo's friend, speculated that the two balloonists most likely jumped from their balloon when the altitude was lower than 100 feet.

"I am not a pessimist but all these balloons are like hydrogen bombs, especially if you fly in stormy weather, when there are thunderstorms. I just pray to God that it wasn't a hydrogen explosion. Then the whole rescue operation would be pointless," Miklusic said.

Officials from the race praised the efforts of the Italian authorities and thanked the Croatian and Greek rescue operations centers for their help.

In a statement on the race Web site, race officials said the Italians are being "extremely thorough in their operations, but unfortunately all items found have not been related to the search."

Race officials said their next update would not be until Friday.

Nancy Abruzzo, wife of the missing pilot, flew overnight to Bari to be at the command center for the latest news, and to be in the vicinity should any clues be found.

Lt. Allegra Agamennone, from the coast guard office in the small Italian port city of Vieste said she was concered about the chances of survival as the hours drag on.

"Seventy two hours is about the maximum someone can survive in the water," she said.

ABC News' Phoebe Natanson and Dragana Jovanovic and The Associated Press contributed to this report.