Emiliano Sala: Underwater search to begin for missing plane
Funding for a private air and sea rescue mission was secured after the official efforts were brought to an end last week
By Sky News
Last Updated: 28/01/19 10:32pm
An underwater search is set to begin for the missing plane carrying Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala, a scientist involved in the operation has said.
Funding for a private air and sea rescue mission was secured after the official efforts were brought to an end, with more than 4,000 people having made donations to help surpass the €300,000 (£259,000) target.
Now a survey vessel has been hired to carry out an underwater search this weekend.
Surrounded by family of the Argentine striker, David Mearns, of Bluewater Recoveries, told reporters: "We have sourced and hired a survey vessel equipped with state of the art search equipment, which will be used to conduct an underwater search for the wreckage in the area of the last radar contact.
"The survey vessel is currently being mobilised in Southampton, and subject to weather conditions, will be re-positioned to Guernsey on Thursday or Friday this week.
"Based on current weather predictions, we are hopeful that the underwater search will begin on the weekend, most probably on Sunday."
Surface searches will continue in the meantime, with local fishing boats among those helping to look for any sign of the plane, which had been flying from the French city of Nantes to Cardiff.
The Piper PA-46 Malibu aircraft disappeared from radar near the Channel Islands, with Sala and pilot David Ibbotson the only people on board.
Guernsey harbour master Captain David Barker said the chances of survival were "extremely remote", but the private operation got underway after more than 800,000 people signed an online petition.
Mr Mearns, a shipwreck hunting expert who has been assisting the family, said they still have hope but added that they are "struggling" with what has happened.
"The family still have some hope, they're looking at this as a missing person, a missing plane, and until they are satisfied, that's the mode that we're in," he said.
"This is a family that have come from Argentina with this huge shock out of nowhere and (is) struggling with what had happened, with very, very few answers about an unexplained loss."
The flight left Nantes for Cardiff at 7.15pm last Monday and lost contact with Jersey air traffic control as it made its way over the English Channel.
On Friday, text messages between Sala and the son of agent Willie McKay discussing flight arrangements emerged.
Mr McKay said that although he had arranged the flight for Sala through a company he had used many times, he did not own the plane, select the aircraft or the pilot.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has opened a probe and their investigations will include whether the pilot had the correct licence.
According to Federal Aviation Administration records, Mr Ibbotson, 59, held a private pilot's licence and passed a medical exam as recently as November,
Staff and fans of Cardiff, which signed Sala for a club-record fee, are expected to wear yellow daffodils on Tuesday for their match against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.