Wreckage of Sala's plane found near Channel Islands

Cardiff City's Bobby Reid celebrates scoring their first goal against Bournemouth last Saturday by displaying a shirt paying tribute to Emiliano Sala.
Cardiff City's Bobby Reid celebrates scoring their first goal against Bournemouth last Saturday by displaying a shirt paying tribute to Emiliano Sala.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • The wreckage of the plane that vanished with Cardiff's record buy, Emiliano Sala, on board was found within hours of a search starting in the sea off the Channel Islands.

A search boat hired privately by the striker's family - thanks partly to a crowdfunding appeal - located the downed plane on Sunday.

The crew passed the details of the location to the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), which used a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) to check the spot.

There was no immediate official confirmation of what was found but the shipwreck specialist leading the private investigation, David Mearns, said the missing plane had been discovered.

He added that it had been located by the privately hired vessel FPV Morven, and the AAIB's vessel, the Geo Ocean III, had visually identified the wreckage with an ROV.

Yesterday Mearns tweeted: "The families of Emiliano Sala and (pilot) 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."

The AAIB corroborated his statement by retweeting his tweet and it is understood it will be up to it to recover the plane.

The Piper Malibu PA-46 carrying the 28-year-old striker, who moved to the Premier League club for £15 million (S$26.5 million) on Jan 19, and Ibbotson, 59, disappeared over the English Channel on Jan 21 after leaving Nantes for Cardiff.

During the journey, the pilot had requested to descend, before losing contact with air traffic control.

An official search operation was called off on Jan 24 after Guernsey's harbour master, David Barker, said the chances of survival were "extremely remote".

The termination caused an outcry, with supporters of the family - and footballers, including Sala's compatriot Lionel Messi - calling for the search to be resumed.

An online fundraising campaign, which was organised by Sala's agency, Sport Cover, paved the way for Mearns to lead the probe.

Fellow footballers, including Kylian Mbappe, donated to the fund, whose target of €300,000 (S$464,650) was reached within a day. When contacted by Argentina's Cronica TV, Sala's father, Horacio, was in disbelief over the news, saying it was "a bad dream".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 05, 2019, with the headline 'Wreckage of Sala's plane found near Channel Islands'. Print Edition | Subscribe