The body of an Air Force flier whose F-111 fighter-bomber was shot down over the Mediterranean during the 1986 air raid on Libya was turned over to U.S. authorities Friday in a gesture ordered by Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi, authorities said.

Officials in Tripoli turned over the coffin, containing what they said was the body of Air Force Capt. Paul F. Lorence, to the Vatican envoy in Libya, Apostolic Vicar Giovanni Martinelli, who accompanied the remains to Rome on a Libyan Air Force plane.Archbishop Francesco Monterisi and Monsignor Sebastiano Corsanego of the Vatican's Council for Public Affairs took charge of the coffin at the top-security Ciampino military airport on the outskirts of Rome and turned it over to U.S. authorities.

The metal casket arrived aboard the Ilyushin IL76 transport plane covered with the U.S. flag and floral wreaths. On the tarmac it was loaded into a police mortuary van, which then drove slowly to the airport exit, escorted by six airmen.

The body was taken to Rome University's Institute of Legal Medicine, where three American doctors were examining and identifying it. The remains are then expected to flown to the United States.

Lorence, 31, was a navigator-weapons systems officer in the rear seat of one of 18 F-111s that flew 2,700 miles from bases in England April 14-15, 1986, and bombed Tripoli and Benghazi.

Lorence's F-111 was hit by anti-aircraft fire off the coast of Tripoli and crashed into the sea. Three weeks later, on May 7, 1986, Libyan television reported a body had washed ashore.

The body of the pilot aboard Lorence's plane, identified as Ribas Dominicci, 34, has never been found.