Sonar search for missing plane carrying footballer and pilot under way

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The family of missing Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala are facing an anxious wait for information as the fresh search for the plane carrying him and his pilot got under way.

The Piper Malibu N264DB carrying 28-year-old Sala and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, disappeared over the English Channel on January 21 after leaving Nantes in France for Cardiff.

Two vessels using sonar are taking part in the search north of Guernsey which began on Sunday.

Marine scientist David Mearns is directing a privately-funded operation on behalf of the Sala family made possible after a campaign raised more than £260,000 to fund it.

The UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) also sent a team aboard a vessel, the Geo Ocean III.

Blue Water Recoveries director Mr Mearns, who claims to have located 24 major shipwrecks during his career, said he would be leading a team of seven others on the vessel FPV Morven.

He said the search is being carried out “in close co-ordination” with the AAIB. They plan to cover an area of around four square nautical miles over three days.

Mr Mearns said the AAIB has a “high confidence level” the plane could be in the search zone, but cautioned that it could have moved once on the seabed.

Before setting off on the search, Mr Mearns told the BBC: “Both vessels are essentially searching with the same type of sonars to give topographic relief and an image of the seabed.

Flowers placed on the pitch ahead of Cardiff City's match on Saturday
Flowers placed on the pitch ahead of Cardiff City’s match on Saturday (Mark Kerton/PA)

“The confidence level is high. The complications are still the same. It is a small plane.

“We can now cover the area twice as fast with the two vessels. We think we have got double the chance of finding something.”

The plane had requested to descend then lost contact with Jersey air traffic control.

An official search operation was called off on January 24 after Guernsey’s harbour master Captain David Barker said the chances of survival following such a long period were “extremely remote”.

Two seat cushions, which are likely to have come from the plane, were found earlier this week.

The AAIB was advised by its French counterparts on Monday that part of a cushion was found on a beach near Surtainville on the Cotentin Peninsula.

A second cushion was found in the same area later that day.

Cardiff had signed the Argentinian striker for a club record £15 million and he was due to start training last month.

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