Video footage 'shows body' in wreckage of Sala's plane
For the family of Emiliano Sala, it was the discovery they had been dreading ever since the footballer's plane vanished a fortnight ago.
A corpse, along with wreckage of the missing aircraft, was found at a depth of 67 metres in the English Channel, air accident authorities announced yesterday.
The grim task will begin in the next few days to bring the plane and at least one body back to the surface.
Investigators said it remained unclear whether the body was that of the 28-year-old footballer, who had just signed for the Premier League club Cardiff City, or of the pilot David Ibbotson, a 59-year-old father of three.
Sala's father spoke of his distress after being informed the plane had been found. "I cannot believe it. This is a dream, a bad dream. I'm desperate," said Horacio Sala, speaking from his home in Progreso, Argentina.
The Piper Malibu aircraft went missing on January 21 in terrible weather as Sala was flown from Nantes, his old club, to Cardiff after a €17m record transfer had been agreed.
A search and rescue overseen by Guernsey Police was called off after three days. But on Sunday a mission to find the wreckage proved successful less than two hours after it began. The plane was discovered 24 nautical miles north of Guernsey. The search had been a joint one between the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB), which investigates civil aircraft accidents in the UK, and a private operation funded after an appeal by Sala's family.
The fund, which stood at £330,000 last night and included a £25,000 donation by Kylian Mbappé, the French World Cup winner, paid for the hiring of FPV Morven, a survey vessel carrying sonar equipment.
The private operation was overseen by David Mearns, an expert in finding shipwrecks. Within two hours, the Morven detected the wreckage.
AAIB experts had plotted the likely crash site after studying last known radar positions. The Geo Ocean III, a vessel commissioned by the AAIB that was working in tandem with the Morven, was then moved to the scene. It deployed a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), attached to the ship by cable, to the seabed. The ROV, about a metre square, filmed the wreckage, and the images transmitted back clearly showed the rear left side of the fuselage.
The AAIB said: "Tragically, in video footage from the ROV, one occupant is visible amid the wreckage. The AAIB is now considering the next steps, in consultation with the families of the pilot and passenger, and the police."
Mr Mearns said the salvage operation will be easier because the aircraft remained relatively intact. He said: "It has suffered a catastrophic impact when it hit the water, but the plane is pretty much one coherent mess. That means it is easier from a salvage and recovery point of view."
He said of Sala's family: "The news is worse today because now their worst fears are confirmed. I imagine they are just as devastated and it will take a long time for them to come to terms with their loss."
Mr Mearns was so certain he would find the wreckage of the plane he told his wife it would take him no more than six hours. In fact, he found it in under two.
Mr Mearns (60) is the world's best shipwreck hunter, having discovered the resting places of a number of notable shipwrecks, among them HMS Hood, the Royal Navy cruiser sunk by the Bismarck in 1941, killing 1,415 men.
The wreck of the Hood was found in the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland in 2001 at a depth of 10,000ft - three kilometres.
Mr Mearns, who lives in West Sussex, has found 22 shipwrecks since setting up Blue Water Recoveries in the mid-Nineties. The firm holds three Guinness World records, including one for the deepest shipwreck ever found, at 19,000ft (5.8km).
Four years ago, he found a wreck believed to be the Portuguese trading ship Esmeralda, which foundered en route to India in 1502. (© Daily Telegraph, London)