London, February 4: The United Kingdom's government agency investigating civil aircraft accidents on Monday announced that the wreckage of a plane identified as the one in which Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala was travelling has been discovered in the English Channel, with at least one corpse found among the debris. The Piper PA-46 Malibu light aircraft carrying Sala and British pilot David Ibbotson lost contact with air traffic controllers on January 21 after taking off from the French city of Nantes on its way to the Welsh capital, Cardiff, where Sala was to join the local team after a club record-breaking winter transfer, reports Efe news.
Specialist water recovery vessels commissioned to conduct a privately funded search for the plane had identified an object of interest on the seabed using its side-scan sonar equipment on Sunday, the UK's Air Accidents Investigation Branch said in an official statement released on Monday. An underwater remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) then surveyed the area of the seabed in which the object was located. Emiliano Sala, Cardiff City Footballer, on Board Missing Flight Feared Dead.
"Based on analysis of ROV video footage, the AAIB investigators on board the vessel concluded that the object is wreckage from the missing Piper Malibu aircraft, registration N264DB," the AAIB said. "Tragically, in video footage from the ROV, one occupant is visible amidst the wreckage," it added. The 28-year-old player and Ibbotson, 59, were declared missing after the plane disappeared from radar screens some 24 kilometres (15 miles) north of the Channel island of Guernsey at 8.23 p.m. on January 21.
An official search-and-rescue operation was launched, but it was called off on January 24 when the two men's chances of survival were deemed to be "extremely remote." Last Wednesday, the AAIB said fragments from two seat cushions belonging to the missing aircraft were discovered washed up on a beach near Surtainville, a town on the Contentin Peninsula in the northern French region of Normandy.
Sala's family had started a private search for the footballer and the pilot with the help of the crowdfunding page GoFundMe. Well-known figures in the world of football championed the cause and contributed to the fund, which quickly surpassed its 300,000-euro ($340,000) target. Donors included France and Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, his teammate Adrien Rabiot and fellow Argentine and Manchester City star Sergio Agüero.
The private search was led by marine scientist David Mearns, who also confirmed on his Twitter account that the wreckage had been located through sonar technology and the remotely-operated submersible had recorded footage in which a person was visible.
Argentine media obtained a WhatsApp voice recording apparently sent by the missing striker to his family while in the plane in which he suggested it was unsafe. "I'm here on a plane that looks like it's about to fall apart and I'm going to Cardiff; crazy, tomorrow we already start, and in the afternoon we start training, boys, in my new team," he had said in a laid-back tone.