Emiliano Sala, 28, was flying from France to join his new club, Premier League side Cardiff City, when the light aircraft disappeared on January 21 north of the island of Guernsey.
The wreckage of a plane carrying Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala and his pilot has been found two weeks after it disappeared in the English Channel, one of the investigators said on Monday. Sala, 28, was flying from France to join his new club, Premier League side Cardiff City, when the light aircraft disappeared on January 21 north of the island of Guernsey. Shipwreck hunter David Mearns, who was hired by the striker’s family after the official rescue effort was called off, said the plane was found on Sunday morning.
“It is broken but most of it is there,” he told BBC radio. Sala’s father Horacio spoke of his shock from his home in Progreso, Argentina, telling Cronica TV: “I can’t believe it. It’s a bad dream.” A spokesperson for Britain’s official Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) told AFP: “I can confirm it has been found.” A further statement is expected later on Monday. Mearns said his private company, Blue Water Recoveries, had found the wreckage before calling in the AAIB to take a closer look. “They dove with their remotely operated vehicle, that’s a submersible with cameras and lights, and indeed confirmed that it was the plane,” he said.
“They saw the registration number and the biggest surprise to both of us was that most of the plane is there.” Asked if the bodies of Sala and the British pilot, David Ibbotson, would be inside, he said: “That’s a possibility.” Sala was flying to Cardiff after transferring from French team Nantes in a 17 million euro ($19.3 million) move — a record deal for the Welsh team. The plane, a Piper PA-46 Malibu, vanished from radar around 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Guernsey, with pilot Ibbotson the only other person aboard.
The family hired Mearns after the official rescue team gave up their search, saying there was little chance of finding anyone alive. “This is about the best result we could have hoped for the families,” Mearns told Sky News. Suspected debris from the plane washed up on the Normandy coastline in France last Wednesday. Top footballers were among more than 4,500 contributors to a crowdfunding page that raised over 300,000 euros ($343,000) to look for the wreckage.
Horacio was the only member of the Sala family to stay behind in Argentina as the others rushed to France and Guernsey to try to help with the search. “I talk to them every day,” he said. “They kept saying days were going by, and that there had been zero word on Emiliano, or on the plane.” The authorities will now resume control of the investigation, Mearns said. The AAIB hired offshore supply ship Geo Ocean III for three days, starting on Sunday, but the search will be dependent on the weather.
At Cardiff’s match against Bournemouth on Saturday, Sala’s photograph appeared on the front cover of the matchday programme. The two captains laid floral tributes on the halfway line before what the club called a “silent reflection”. Sala’s name, in the Argentina colours, was also spelled out behind one of the goals as supporters held cards aloft. Cardiff manager Neil Warnock said Sala would have been “really proud” of the team after they won 2-0 in their first home match since the plane vanished. Programme notes, penned by owner Vincent Tan and the rest of the Bluebirds’ board, said events had shaken “Cardiff City to its very core”.