Search teams hopeful of finding Emiliano Sala plane wreckage as investigation area narrows

Jamie Johnson

Search teams looking for the missing plane of Emiliano Sala and Dave Ibbotson have narrowed their investigation to a pocket of sea just four square nautical miles in size, as they hope to recover the wreckage on Sunday.

David Mearns, a renowned shipwreck hunter is leading the privately funded search in the Morven survey vessel, alongside an 80m long ship called the Geo Ocean III, brought in by the Air Accident Investigation Branch.

According to Mr Mears, the AAIB has pinpointed an area of sea where the plane was last picked up on radar, around 24 nautical miles north of Guernsey, and the search vessels are due to arrive in the area early this morning.

Speaking on Saturday at St Peter Port, Guernsey, Mr Mearns said of the footballer’s relatives: “The family are devastated and they are struggling with what’s happened. 

“What we are doing is trying to provide some answers for them.”

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After seat covers were from the plane were found to have washed up on a French beach last week, Mr Mears said: “The plane has clearly broken up, and that implies a hard impact on the water surface, so we know we’re looking for a plane that is broken and a debris field.

“Two by two is a fairly small pocket of water so we should have a fair amount of confidence that we’re going to go out there and find it.”

Mr Mears added that the teams will operate 24 hours a day, saying: “It doesn’t matter who finds it. It’s that it’s found.”

Both Morven and the other search vessel have multi-beam echosounders and side-scan sonar, which can detect anomalies on the seabed.

They will tow the sonar equipment at four knots in a grid pattern through area in a fashion Mr Mearns likened to “mowing the lawn”. 

If anything is detected, a remotely operated submersible fitted with cameras and lights will be sent down to identify if it is the Piper Malibu plane wreckage.

The single-engine aircraft carrying the Argentinian forward left Nantes airport in north west France at around 7.15pm on Monday, January 20, and was en route to Cardiff, where Sala was looking forward to joining up with his new teammates.

Just after an hour into the flight, pilot Dave Ibbotson, 60, asked air traffic control to reduce altitude from 5,000 ft to 2,300 feet.

But a short time later the Guernsey coastguard was alerted after the aircraft disappeared from radar screens.

David Mearns, right, with Emiliano Sala's family, will lead the search on a vessel called Morven Credit: Joe Giddens/PA 

An initial search for the plane was abandoned after four days after nothing was found.

 Cardiff City players wore t-shirts bearing Sala’s face as they warmed up ahead of their match against Bournemouth on Saturday.

Striker Bobby Reid opened the scoring and dedicated his goal to the Argentinian by holding up a picture of the footballer to the fans.