The plane that was carrying footballer Emiliano Sala has been found at the bottom of the English Channel following a crowd-funded sonar search two weeks after it vanished leaving the Argentine striker and his pilot missing feared dead.
The specialist search for the missing plane began off the coast of Guernsey this morning and located the wreckage on the seabed just hours later.
Search vessel FPV Morven, brought in after the official hunt was called off, picked up a sonar signal and the wreckage was formally identified by officials from the Air Accident Investigation Board.
The AAIB’s vessel deployed a remote-controlled submarine to examine the plane and tonight confirmed it was the craft carrying Sala and pilot David Ibbotson from Nantes in France to Cardiff, the Premier League team the star had just signed for.
Families of both men have been informed of the discovery.
The specialist FPV Morven ship, pictured in Guernsey, was being used in a privately funded search for the plane of missing footballer Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) Geo Ocean III moved in to assist the Morven when it discovered wreckage. Geo sent an ROV to visually identify the wreck on the seabed
Both the AAIB’s Geo Ocean III vessel and a private boat, which includes a side-scan sonar, were used to try and find the aircraft.
Teams from the AAIB have now moved into location at the site to recover the aircraft.
The vessel that made the discovery was lead by marine scientist David Mearns, who confirmed the identity and location of the plane.
He confirmed that it was in the early stages of this morning’s search, around 9 am, that the discovery was made.
A track of the FPV Morven shows it returning to shore after the wreckage was discovered
AAIB tweeted yesterday that the Geo Ocean III left Ostend in Belgium at 9am and was due to arrive at the search area at 9am today.
David Mearns, leading the search, told reporters that the wreckage was found at around 9am today, meaning that it could have taken less than an hour to discover the remnants of the Piper Malibu.
Mr Mearns told Sky News: ‘This is about the best result we could have hoped for the families.
Mr Mearns told Sky News: ‘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.’
The recovery vessel picked up something on the sonar 24 miles off Guernsey and made further passes over the area to pinpoint the location before going through various stages of identification.
David Mearns called the news ‘devastating’ but told Tom Parmenter of Sky News that ‘at least we were able to bring some sort of answer to the families.’
The scientist tweeted that it was the Morven vessel that located the wreckage and added: ‘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.’
He added in a separate tweet that both families were notified by police and that a statement is expected tomorrow from AAIB.
‘Tonight our sole thoughts are with the families and friends of Emiliano and David,’ he concluded.
Emiliano Sala (pictured) has been missing since after his plane went down over the English Channel on January 21
The discovery came just two days after cushions from a plane were found on a beach near Surtainville in Normandy, France, directly east of Guernsey where the plane disappeared from radar.
Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson disappeared when their plane vanished as it passed near Alderney on 21 January during a flight from Nantes to Cardiff.
The AAIB said its search was expected to last three days, while the private search will continue ‘until the plane is located’, reported the BBC.
A four mile square area, based on the flight path before the plane lost contact, was covered.
The official search after the plane’s disappearance was called off after three days as officials didn’t believe there was much chance of anyone having survived.
An online petition was then started which raised more than £300,000 to put on a privately-funded search using a specialist survey vessel.
More than 3,500 people had responded to the appeal for funds and the target was broken with the help of a £26,000 donation from French World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe.
The boat, operated by global marine cable installation firm A-2-Sea, is equipped with the latest technology.
It includes a multi-beam echosounder and side-scan sonar, which can detect anomalies on the seabed.
The Piper Malibu carrying Sala from Nantes to Cardiff vanished over Alderney on January 21 and is feared to have plunged into one of the Channel’s most perilous areas, known as Hurd’s Deep
Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson (pictured) disappeared when their plane vanished as it passed near Alderney on 21 January
Marine scientist David Mearns, 60, will lead the private search in the four mile square area
David Mearns, who claims to have found 24 major shipwrecks, led the group during the search.
He said that the boat, called Morven, was brought from Southampton to Guernsey six hours earlier than scheduled to take advantage of a break in the weather.
Mr Mearns said both vessels would divide the search area looking for ‘wreckage’ and a ‘debris field’ in a depth of 60-120m (196-390ft).
Members of Mr Sala’s family and friends arrived in Guernsey last Saturday and several members of the group were later taken to the small island of Burhou.
Emiliano Sala’s mother and sister arrived at Guernsey Airport following a flight out to the search area west of Alderney on January 28
The islet was the focus of social media attention on the night of the disappearance after members of the public shared a picture which appeared to show flares coming from the island.
However, John Fitzgerald, the director of Channel Islands Air Search, said the island and its surrounding area had been searched many times.
He added: ‘It is really a puffin reserve. It is tiny but you can land on it,’ he said. ‘The plane and helicopters have been over many times since [the night the plane vanished], but they haven’t seen anything in that area.
‘It is only a few hundred metres long and it has been saturated by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
‘The flares I have seen pictures of are most likely aircraft trails.’