MILAN (AP) — The body of a U.S. airman has been found in a river in the northern Italian town where he went missing 10 days ago, Italian and U.S. authorities said Tuesday.
A Carabinieri official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to give the information, said the body of Staff Sgt. Halex Hale was identified by his father and colleagues from the Aviano Air Base. The body, clad in just a swimming suit, was spotted earlier Tuesday by a passer-by, who notified authorities.
The U.S. Air Force confirmed that Hale's body had been found in the Livenza River, within a couple of kilometers (a mile) of where he went missing July 2. The cause of death is under investigation.
"We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss of life," said Brig. Gen. Lance Landrum, commander of the 31st Fighter Wing, "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, fellow Airmen and friends."
The 24-year-old from Middletown, Indiana, who was assigned to Aviano Air Base north of Venice, went missing on July 2 after leaving a friend's cookout off base in the town of Sacile to walk to another friend's home about 15 minutes away. He left his cell phone, credit cards and car at the cookout.
The body was found in an area searched for five days with the aid of divers and dogs, but the official said it was likely that the body had gotten caught in vegetation below the surface and had been freed more recently by the current.
Authorities say it is possible that Hale had gone swimming in a canal in front of his friend's house, although the cause of death remains unknown. The canal runs into the river where the body was found.
An autopsy is planned for Wednesday, the official said.
Hale's father traveled to Italy to aid in the search for his son. His mother, Amy, told The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, that her son had been in the Air Force for six years and at Aviano since February 2015. He also served in Afghanistan. He was a member of the wing's communications squadron.
Pastor Phil Rogers of the Middletown Church of the Nazarene where both Halex Hale and his brother attended daycare said the airman "loved what he was doing" in the military.
"It's just heart-wrenching. Because now they're dealing with the reality that he's gone," he said.
Ken Kusmer in Indianapolis contributed to this report.