The family of Emiliano Sala, the footballer whose light aircraft went missing off the Channel Islands, have announced that a hi-tech unmanned submarine will be used to search the seabed for any potential wreckage.
Late last week, Guernsey police called off their search for Cardiff Cityâ€™s new ÂŁ15m signing and pilot David Ibbotson. Guernsey harbourmaster David Barker described the chance of them being found alive as â€śextremely remoteâ€ť.
David Mearns, Salaâ€™s family spokesman and a nautical search expert, told a press conference that the private search would take place in the English Channel, paid for by fundraisers.
Sitting alongside Salaâ€™s family, who had journeyed from Argentina to view the stretch of water, Mearns said the search is expected to begin on Sunday.
Guernsey police posted a statement on Twitter outlining the four main theories about the whereabouts of the flight passengers:
1. They have landed elsewhere but not made contact
2. They landed on water, have been picked up by a passing ship but not made contact
3. They landed on water and made it into the life raft we know was on board
4. The aircraft broke up on contact with the water, leaving them in the sea
Police added that their search had been focused on the life-raft option.
The news came as aeronautical expert Jorge Polanco told Argentinian news network TyC Sports that â€ścrossing the Channel at night in bad weather, with a single-engine engine, is crazyâ€ť.Â
Polanco said: â€śThe Piper Malibu is an excellent single-engine aircraft , which has the capacity for seven people, but I am very surprised that they have been doing this operation flying at night, with what is the European winter at the moment.â€ť
He added: â€śIt’s like flying in Antarctica in the winter with an airplane of that size, which can suffer from what is called icing, thus stopping the engine, and I think something related to that has happened.â€ť
According to the Daily Mail, the pilot had made â€śup to four attempts to take offâ€ť from Nantes before the plane finally began its journey.
Rescue operation boss Fitzgerald told Sky News the Channel Island Air Search believe the aircraft broke up after crashing into the sea.
â€śAt this stage I think it’s very unlikely to have an aircraft that’s in one piece,” he said.
â€śWhen a plane goes on the water you only have a few minutes before it does sink. They’re not designed to sit on the sea and once you open the doors you usually have two or three minutes before it goes underwater, especially with a lighter aircraft.â€ť
According to reports, Sala sent a WhatsApp voice message to friends while on board the flight. Argentine media outlet Ole has published the contents of the recording, in which Sala is said to describe conditions on the aircraft shortly before it disappeared.Â
With the sound of the plane’s engine in the background, Sala is reportedly heard saying: â€śI was over in Nantes sorting things out. I am now aboard a plane that seems like it is falling to pieces. I’m going to Cardiff now, crazy, and tomorrow we get going. I will train with my new team.â€ť
He added: â€śIf you do not have any more news from in an hour and a half, I don’t know if they need to send someone to find me. I am getting scared!â€ť
The footballerâ€™s father told reporters he was â€śdesperateâ€ť for news and â€śin despairâ€ť, while Salaâ€™s mother said the tragedy came just as her son was â€śenjoying the best moment of his career so farâ€ť.
The search will use a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to comb an area of around 25 square nautical miles. Fishing boats and other vessels will also help in the operation, reports the BBC.
The area that Mearns will be focusing on â€śis 65m deep and is regularly fished by scallop dredgers, making the hard seabed smoothâ€ť, reports The Guardian.
Mearns said the currents were strong and there were other wrecks there, which made it more difficult, but he said the bottom of the seabed was easily reachable with the ROV.
He added: â€śWe cannot guarantee we will find the plane, but we think we have a very good chanceâ€¦ The family is determined to get answers they donâ€™t have now – the only way is to find this missing plane.â€ť
Donations from footballers including Manchester Cityâ€™s Ä°lkay Gundogan and PSGâ€™s Kylian Mbappe helped a GoFundMe page raising money for a private search to pass the â‚¬300,000 (ÂŁ260,000) target.