Scientist behind hunt for Emilaino Sala confident he’ll find wreckage

Marine scientist behind hunt for Emiliano Sala’s plane is ‘confident’ he’ll find sunken wreckage when search for the footballer resumes tomorrow

  • US Marine scientist David Mearns is assisting Emiliano Sala’s family in the search 
  • Plane carrying 28-year-old Sala and pilot David Ibbotson disappeared on Jan 21 
  • Mearns previously said search would focus on area of seabed north of Alderney 
  • Underwater searches set to launch today, after a private fundraising campaign 

The US marine scientist behind the private hunt for the wreckage of Emiliano Sala’s plane has promised he’ll find answers for the star’s family – but warned that the plane has ‘clearly broken up’.  

David Mearns revealed his confidence in finding the missing plane during a press conference at St Peter Port harbour, Guernsey, at the end of Crown Pier, today.

He said search efforts to recover the missing plane would begin at 3am on Sunday and would focus on a 4sq nautical mile area of the seabed north of Guernsey. 

The scientist believes that they will find the wreckage by Tuesday. 

The plane carrying 28-year-old Sala and pilot David Ibbotson disappeared over the English Channel on January 21 after leaving Nantes in France for Cardiff.

The Piper Malibu carrying Cardiff City’s new signing Sala vanished over the Channel Islands on Monday January 21 after hitting bad weather en route to Wales from Nantes in France

Emiliano Sala, pictured, told loved ones he was worried the plane was falling apart in WhatsApp messages before take-off

The specialist FPV Morven Survey ship now in Guernsey at St Peter Port Harbour

Mr Mearns says the cooperation between his private search and the government led search ‘has been tremendous’. 

He also thanked the local authorities for their assistance.  

Talking about the search, Mr Mearns said: ‘I want to help them, as simple as that, any way we can. The family are devastated we’re trying to provide answers, that’s the ultimate objective. We are giving the families the best chance to find the answers they don’t have.

Sonar and remote controlled vehicles will be searching 24 hours a day, and will allow searchers to find small objects.

However, he warned: ‘The plane has been badly broken up and we are looking for a debris field. We are confident of finding the wreckage on the next three days.’ 

Marine scientist David Mearns, 60, is in Guernsey to help local recovery experts with the hunt for the aircraft

The family of the missing footballer had earlier announced they would launch the underwater search this weekend. 

The Argentinian player’s mother and sister arrived in Guernsey last week and raised funds for a private search in a 33-square-mile area of the English Channel seabed.  

The police search and rescue operation was called off on Thursday, January 24 but the family have enlisted marine scientist David Mearns to help with the private search. 

US-born Mr Mearns has been called in after a funding campaign backed by Premier League stars Laurent Koscielny and Ilkay Gundogan raised nearly £260,000. 

A specialist vessel which can scan anomalies on the seabed has arrived in Guernsey to carry out the search. 

The vessel, which travelled from Southampton, is to be used by the group being led by world-renowned marine scientist and shipwreck hunter Mearns.

Marine scientist David Mearns (right) speaks as Emiliano Sala’s sister Romina (left) and mother Mercedes (right) listen at a press conference in Guernsey today 

The boat is operated by global marine cable installation firm A-2-Sea and equipped with a multi-beam echosounder and side-scan sonar, which can detect anomalies on the seabed.

Mr Mearns, who claims to have found 24 major shipwrecks, said the boat, named Morven, was brought to Guernsey six hours earlier than scheduled to take advantage of a break in the weather. 

Sala, who had completed a £15 million move to Cardiff on January 19, had been visiting his former club and saying goodbye to his old teammates. 

He also returned to put his beloved dog Nala in kennels. 

Mr Ibbotson took control of the plane as it returned to Cardiff and aborted three attempted take offs in terrible weather.

An hour into the flight, Mr Ibbotson told air traffic control he was reducing altitude from 5,000 to 2,300 feet over the Channel Islands.

It later emerged Cardiff’s record signing had expressed fears for his life in messages sent to close friends.

Two seats, believed to be from the missing plane, were found on a beach near on the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy


David Henderson, 60, (left) was meant to carry the Argentianian striker to Britain but he drafted in David Ibbotson, 59, (right)  after asking him: ‘Do you want to spend a weekend in Nantes?’

In a WhatsApp voice note, he said in Spanish: ‘I’m on a plane that looks like it’s going to fall apart.’

Aviation experts said the chartered single-engine aircraft should not have been risking the flight in icy conditions.

A few days ago, it was revealed that an experienced pilot chartered by football agent Willie McKay to fly Emiliano Sala drafted in Mr Ibbotson, who was a ‘rusty’ part-time replacement and covered the costs on his credit card causing confusion when the plane vanished.

The Piper Malibu carrying Cardiff City’s new £15million signing vanished over the Channel Islands on Monday January 21 after hitting bad weather en route to Wales from France. 

The missing Piper Malibu (pictured) was last heard from as it approached Alderney and the wreckage has not been found

Mr McKay wanted his usual pilot David Henderson, 60,  to carry the Argentinian striker to Britain but he drafted in Mr Ibbotson, 59, after asking him: ‘Do you want to spend a weekend in Nantes?’

Mr Ibbotson, a boiler engineer and part-time pilot, told a friend he was ‘a bit rusty’ with the instruments of the 35-year-old aircraft and it did not have the licence to carry paying passengers.

Describing the time period since, Mr McKay, a mega-agent renowned for his contacts in France, told l’Equipe sports newspaper that it has ‘been an absolute nightmare for us.’ 

Debris believed to be from Sala’s plane is seen on the French coast more than a week after the footballer and pilot went missing 

The discovery (above) has been seized on by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) who are now planning a focused search of the seabed to try and locate the rest of the aircraft which vanished on January 21 


The family of top football agent Willie McKay are believed to have chartered the plane taking Emiliano Sala to the UK when it vanished. His son Mark has also been involved in a number of high-profile transfers including Dimitri Payet’s £10.7million move to West Ham (together right)

Cardiff had originally proposed funding a commercial flight for Sala but the McKay family instead funded a private plane. ‘When you spend €17m on a footballer, you don’t put him on an EasyJet flight,’ McKay said. 

Mr McKay helped negotiate Sala’s £15million transfer to Premiership club Cardiff, and then heard that Sala wanted to spend a day in Nantes seeing club officials and former teammates and his dog Nala. 

Timeline: How the Sala plane tragedy unfolded 

‘The Last Goodbye’: Emiliano Sala posted this photograph on Instagram on Monday, bidding farewell to his old teammates at Nantes Football Club, after he signed a record £15 million contract with Cardiff City. It is believed to be the last photo of him

Friday, January 18: Sala travels to Cardiff to have a medical and discuss personal terms 

Saturday, January 19: Cardiff agrees £15m deal with Nantes to sign the player who then flies back to France

Sunday, January 20: Argentinian star goes to say a final goodbye to his former teammates and poses for a poignant final photo (pictured). His pilot checks in at the city’s airport as he waits for him as he collects his belongings.

Monday, January 21: Sala boards flight from Nantes to Cardiff at 7.15pm but it disappears at 8.30pm

Wednesday, January 23: Search and rescue teams say there is ‘no hope’ and reveal operation around Alderney is now a recovery one, not a rescue mission

Monday, January 28: Two seats from the plane are washed up on the Normandy coast

Cardiff offered him a commercial flight for the trip, but Mr McKay offered him a private plane ‘for free’. 

Mr Ibbotson, who was known to have financial problems, is said to have told Mr Henderson that he had lost his credit card.

This led to Mr Henderson having to pay for Mr Ibbotson’s hotel in France, and for the flight itself.

Mr Henderson’s details were accordingly given to officials at Nantes-Atlantique airport, leading to initial fears that he had been piloting the doomed flight.

‘Since it was Henderson’s bank card, everyone thought he was on the plane,’ said Mr McKay.

The striker’s former club Nantes paid tribute  Sala with gigantic murals of the Argentinian striker before their league game with St Etienne on Wednesday evening. 

In their first game since Sala went missing on January 21, Nantes paid tribute with a huge centre-circle mural of the missing footballer before his name was spelled out by supporters using yellow and green cards in the stands.

On January 28, a chartered plane recreated the last known movements of the missing aircraft that was carrying the Cardiff City footballer for the benefit of his family.

Marine scientist David Mearns told reporters that relatives and friends of the Argentinian striker hired the private plane on Monday, a week after the Piper PA-46 Malibu disappeared over the English Channel.

The group, including the 28-year-old footballer’s mother Mercedes and sister Romina, travelled on a twin-engine Dornier 228-212 plane, which flew from Guernsey Airport and circled the island of Alderney.

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