Tuesday 07 July 2020
Select a region

'Shipwreck Hunter' relaunches search for missing footballer's plane

'Shipwreck Hunter' relaunches search for missing footballer's plane

Monday 28 January 2019

'Shipwreck Hunter' relaunches search for missing footballer's plane

The family of missing footballer Emiliano Sala have arrived in Guernsey to re-launch the search for his missing plane, alongside an expert in tracking down missing shipwrecks.

Sala's mother and sister landed in Guernsey yesterday, and have enlisted the help of self-styled 'shipwreck hunter' and marine scientist David Mearns, to try and find the Piper Malibu aircraft which went missing a week ago tonight near the Casquets lighthouse, with Sala and his pilot David Ibbotson on board.

While it is unclear what happened, with lots of theories being reported in the national media and shared on social media over the weekend, it is known that Sala was flying from Nantes to Cardiff so he could make the next move in his footballing career, in a £15million move.


Pictured: Dave Ibbotson, the pilot who flew the plane carrying Sala from Nantes to his new homeground, Cardiff.

He had gone back to the French city so he could say goodbye to his friends before getting on board the Piper Malibu, piloted by Ibbotson, to make the cross Channel flight to Wales to begin training with his new team the following day.

The single engined plane took off, reportedly after up to four failed attempts, at 19:30 on Monday night before making contact with Air Traffic Control in Jersey at 20:30 to request to descend to a lower altitude, when it then disappeared off radar.

Fortunately, the Channel Islands Air Search team had just finished a regular training session when the call came in that a plane with two passengers needed help so the volunteers were in the air and flying over the Casquets within 30 minutes. Alderney lifeboat had launched by 20:50 and Guernsey's by 21:00.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Emiliano Sala (@emilianosala9) onOct 22, 2017 at 10:01am PDT

Pictured: Emiliano Sala and his mother.

They were joined by other planes, helicopters and boats in the search which eventually lasted three days despite cold temperatures and bad weather at times, before Guernsey's Harbourmaster announced on Thursday afternoon that the search had found nothing of note, and that it would be stood down permanently.

Among those not happy with that decision are the family of Emiliano Sala. His sister, Romina Sala told reporters at a press conference in Cardiff that the search had been called off too soon and should be relaunched.

Her calls to resume the search have been echoed by others, including fellow Argentinian footballer Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona and Sergio Aguero, and the Sala's home country president, Mauricio Macri.

Messi is reported to have backed a GoFundMe page set up by agents Sport Cover saying the money raised would enable Emiliano Sala's relatives "via a specialised organisation, to resume research in the Channel", as well as Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan.

The page also said that "its sole objective, through a specialized non-profit organization, is to help the family of Emiliano and pilot Dave Ibbotson continue the research".

In total, the appeal had raised more than €323,000 by Sunday night.


Pictured: The crowdfunding page set up to raise money to continue searching for Sala and Ibbotson was flooded with donations.

Yesterday, 'Shipwreck Hunter' David Mearns arrived in Guernsey following Sala's family, and spoke to reporters about his plans for the search.

He told reporters at the island's airport: "The family still have some hope, they are looking at this as a missing person, a missing plane, and until they are satisfied, that's the mode we are in. At some point in time, we will be looking at more investigative, technical searches under water.

"Two local Guernsey fishing vessels are assisting us, and they are fishing in the exact same area while the plane was last located and so while they are fishing, they will also be looking."

He continued: "You have to appreciate, they don't know the environment, they don't know the geography, this is a family who have come from Argentina, with this huge shock out of nowhere, and are struggling which what has happened, and very few answers about an unexplained loss, and so we need to give them time, and that's what we are trying to do, and give them that space with their enquires, and the technical plans as well."

He said the Guernsey authorities are answering all the questions the family have. Mr Mearns is credited with finding HMS Hood, HMAS Sydney, AHS Centaur, Kormoran, MV Lucona and MV Derbyshire.

The football community remains shaken by his disappearance, with continued tributes to the player and his pilot being shared over the weekend.


Pictured: A tribute on a Nantes FC t-shirt left by a Cardiff fan. (Ben Birchall/PA)

Cardiff FC posted an image of a football and yellow tulips - signifying Sala's former team, Nantes FC, whose colour is yellow - accompanied with the caption: "For Emiliano. For David. #CityAsOne"

Saturday's FA cup matches saw footballers wear black armbands to mark the apparent loss of the player.

However, Milwall and Everton players did not follow suit during their clash later in the evening upon request from Sala's family to the FA, who were against the idea because Sala and Ibbotson had not been confirmed dead.

Meanwhile, questions continue to be raised over the choice of aircraft flying Sala over to Cardiff. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has launched a probe, which will consider whether Mr Ibbotson had the correct licence to fly Sala.

Cardiff FC publicly said that they did not book Sala's flight and would have opted for a commercial carrier if they had done. Reports later emerged saying that the choice was down to the UK agents involved in his transfer.

Willie McKay, the Scottish agent of many top-tier footballers, said last week that he and his sons, who are also agents, had contacted pilot David Henderson to help arrange the journey. However, he said in a statement that they were not involved in the ultimate selection of the plane or pilot.


Pictured: An aircraft of the same type as the one which has disappeared. 

Mr Henderson was subsequently incorrectly believed to have been the pilot and named as such by various international media outlets. He took to Facebook to tell friends and family "Contrary to press reports I am not dead!!" before deleting his account.

Mr Henderson's involvement following contact from the McKays remains unknown, as does the reason why Mr Ibbotson - someone whose primary job was as a gas engineer and who is only believed to have a private flying licence - ended up responsible for Sala's flight.

Numerous media outlets have also drawn attention to the poor reputation of the plane - a Piper PA-46 Malibu - in the flying community.


Pictured: It is unknown how Dave Ibbotson (left) ended up being the one to fly Sala.

The model was built in the 1980s and has been described as requiring frequent maintenance. It has also been reported to struggle in icy conditions, needing to descend into warmer air in order to function better.

A Sunday Times article pointed out that Sala's pilot had asked air traffic controllers if he could start descending.

It also highlighted some worrisome statistics associated with the plane: 237 reports of accidents recorded by the US National Transportation Safety Board since the mid-1980s, leading to 168 fatalities.

Follow Express for updates on the continued search for Sala and his pilot as it unfolds...

Pictured top: Emiliano Sala (Instagram/@emilianosala9), whose family arrived at Guernsey Airport yesterday in order to continue the search for him and pilot Dave Ibbotson.

Sign up to newsletter



Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.

Once your comment has been submitted, it won’t appear immediately. There is no need to submit it more than once. Comments are published at the discretion of Bailiwick Publishing, and will include your username.

There are no comments for this article.

To place a comment please login

You have landed on the Bailiwick Express website, however it appears you are based in . Would you like to stay on the site, or visit the site?