The family of football star Emiliano Sala, who has been missing alongside pilot Dave Ibbotson after their plane disappeared last week, say they hope to begin underwater searches this weekend.
A smaller search area, and the "shallowest" project of marine scientist and self-dubbed 'shipwreck hunter' David Mearns' career, makes the sea bed where the ill-fated plane could be lying "reachable".
Although the local, official, search for the missing plane was called off last week, with Sala and Ibbotson presumed dead, oceanographer Mr Mearns, who has been contracted by Sala's family, will now use a state-of-the-art survey vessel, which is currently in Southampton, to launch a fresh search on behalf of the Sala family.
Video: Sala's family arriving at Guernsey Airport.
The focus appears now to be on finding the plane’s wreckage on a relatively small area on the sea bed using the last known location from radar signals received at the time, and remotely controlled underwater craft.
“We have a very good position from that. Worst case we’re looking at an area of 25 square miles. The area we are looking at is north of Hurd Deep. It’s around 65 metres deep, which is one of the shallowest projects I’ve ever done in my career,” said Mr Mearns.
“It’s hard rock it’s regularly fished by scallop dredgers so it’s relatively smooth. We believe we have the best equipment for the job,” he said.
He clarified that his company, Blue Water Recoveries has recovered planes from around 5,000 ft deep in the past.
Pictured: Emiliano Sala's sister, mother and friend with David Mearns at Guernsey Airport today.
“This is reachable,” he said.
The underwater search will be subject to weather conditions, and it was noted that the search would not have been able to be carried out this week because of the high winds.
This phase of the operation has been covered by the £300,000 raised in Emiliano Sala’s honour by a GoFundMe crowdfunding page.
The family did not speak at the news conference, but allowed Mr Mearns to speak for them.
Pictured: Emiliano Sala's sister and mother (centre) with David Mearns, as he spoke to the media on their behalf today.
“I have been asked to assist and advise in all respects. With respect to the people who have assisted in the fundraising we want to act with complete transparency. Considering their pain and sorrow at this difficult time,” he said.
The family have been taken on the route that both Mr Sala’s plane would have taken as well as that of the rescue mission. They flew out over Les Casquets and the surrounding areas on a chartered Aurigny flight before two of the Sala party travelled on to Alderney to see what the situation was there.
“That is really what their visit has been about, seeing some of the things they have been told about,” he said.
It was also made clear that the Guernsey authorities were not responsible for the lack of underwater search to date.
Pictured: The type of aircraft used to fly Sala from Nantes to his new club in Cardiff, but which unfortunately never completed the journey.
“The decision where to search for the plane’s wreckage and their decision that they wouldn’t find out much from the search, that’s what triggered the private search,” he said.
It is known that the particular model of plane - a Piper PA-46 Malibu - was constructed in the 80s and was notorious for requiring frequent maintenance, as well as having difficulties operating in lower temperatures.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has launched a probe to investigate what happened.
Pictured: Tributes for Sala and Ibbotson left in Nantes. (Jonathan Noiraut Roy)
Tributes continue to be left in Nantes - the home of Sala's former football club - and Cardiff - where Sala had just completed a record signing - for the footballer and his pilot.
Pictured top: David Mearns speaking to the media, accompanied by Emiliano Sala's family.
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