Missing airman Corrie McKeague died after drunkenly climbing into a Greggs bin which was then emptied into a lorry, police believe.
RAF gunner McKeague, 23, vanished after a night out in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, in September 2016.
He was last spotted walking into a loading bay area in the town and is feared to have fallen asleep inside the bin.
Police traced his mobile phone signal showing it had travelled in a vehicle shortly after 4am to Barton Mills around 14 miles away.
The movement of the phone matched that of a bin lorry which picked up rubbish from the loading bay.
A search of nearly 10,000 square feet of rubbish in Milton, Cambs, by Suffolk Police ended without success.
Chief Supt Marina Ericson told an inquest into Corrie’s death at Suffolk coroner’s court today that she believes he died in the Biffa lorry.
She told the hearing in Ipswich that Mr Mckeague was last seen alive at 3.25am on September 24, 2016, as he entered the bin area.
Ms Ericson said that a waste lorry emptied the Greggs bin at 4.19am, and the bin was recorded as weighing 116kg (18st 3lb).
“This was 70kg to 80kg (12st 8lb) more than its average weight,” she said.
She added: “Despite an extensive police-led investigation and search, there has been no proof of life since the last sighting of Corrie.
“It is believed that Corrie was in the bin when it was emptied into the Biffa waste lorry and this is where he died.”
Corrie’s mum Nicola Urquhart, 51, of Dunfermline, Fife, has said she believes he could have walked or been driven out of the area he was last seen in.
A £2million investigation into the disappearance was shelved in 2018 and handed to the cold case team after police admitted having “no realistic lines of enquiry left to pursue”.
The inquest was formally opened by the county’s coroner Nigel Parsley and a pre-inquest review will take place on February 5 next year.
He said: “On the basis of the evidence I’ve heard I will open an inquest into Corrie’s tragic death.”