Thursday 18 July 2019

Wreckage from plane carrying Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson found in English channel

The match day programme carried an image of Emiliano Sala on the cover (Mark Kerton/PA)
The match day programme carried an image of Emiliano Sala on the cover (Mark Kerton/PA) Newsdesk Newsdesk

Wreckage from the plane which disappeared with Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson on board has been found in the English Channel, search director David Mearns said.

The Piper Malibu N264DB carrying 28-year-old Sala and pilot Ibbotson, 59, disappeared over the English Channel on January 21 after leaving Nantes in France for Cardiff.

Two vessels using sonar carried out a search north of Guernsey, which began on Sunday. A search boat located the wreckage on the seabed of the English Channel this morning.

Marine scientist David Mearns directed a privately-funded operation on behalf of the Sala family made possible after a campaign raised more than £260,000 to fund it.

The UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) also sent a team aboard a vessel, the Geo Ocean III.

David Mearns said on Twitter: "Wreckage of the plane carrying Emiliano Sala and piloted by David Ibbotson was located early this morning by the FPV MORVEN.

"As agreed with the AAIB they moved the GEO OCEAN III over the position we provided them to visually identify the plane by ROV. #EmilianoSala."

Mr Mearns added: "The families of Emiliano Sala and David Ibbotson have been notified by Police. The AAIB will be making a statement tomorrow. Tonight our sole thoughts are with the families and friends of Emiliano and David."

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Mearns said: "This is about the best result we could have hoped for the families.

"But tonight they have heard devastating news and in respect of the families I won't comment any further about what has happened."

Before setting off on the search, Mearns told the BBC: "Both vessels are essentially searching with the same type of sonars to give topographic relief and an image of the seabed.

"Once we locate any wreckage then we go in to the next phase of it which would be to identify it visually with a robotic vehicle called a ROV.

"The confidence level is high. The complications are still the same. It is a small plane.

"We can now cover the area twice as fast with the two vessels. We think we have got double the chance of finding something."

The plane had requested to descend then lost contact with Jersey air traffic control.

An official search operation was called off on January 24 after Guernsey's harbour master Captain David Barker said the chances of survival following such a long period were "extremely remote".

Two seat cushions, which are likely to have come from the plane, were found earlier this week.

The AAIB was advised by its French counterparts on Monday that part of a cushion was found on a beach near Surtainville on the Cotentin Peninsula.

A second cushion was found in the same area later that day.

Cardiff had signed the Argentinian striker for a club record £15 million and he was due to start training last month.

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