One body ‘visible’ in wreckage of plane carrying Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala

One body is visible in the seabed wreckage of a plane that went missing carrying Argentine football player Emiliano Sala and his pilot two weeks ago over the English Channel, air accident investigators said overnight.

Britain’s Air Accident Investigation Branch did not say if the underwater camera identified Sala or pilot David Ibbotson, the only two people on board the small aircraft that disappeared from radar over the English Channel on January 21 as it flew from the French city of Nantes to Cardiff, Wales.

Wreckage from the plane was located yesterday after Sala’s family raised funds for a private search by American-born shipwreck-hunting specialist David Mearns because authorities called off the official search.

Although the seabed search yesterday was conducted in conjunction with British air accident investigators, they have not said if they plan to raise the wreckage to the surface.

“I understand their priorities are a little bit different to the families’ (priorities), but I don’t think they can rest now,” Mearns told British radio station Talk Sport. “I just think it’s even more imperative that the plane and the body are recovered. I know that’s exactly what the Sala family want. They communicated that to me last night.”

Sala, 28, a striker who played for Nantes in the French top flight, was preparing to start a new career in the Premier League at Cardiff.

“(Sala’s family is) desperate to see that the plane is recovered so they can conduct a forensic examination to discover what caused the crash, and all the more now that there is a body,” Mearns said.

An underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) surveyed the seabed and confirmed an object was the missing Piper Malibu aircraft, with the registration N264DB visible in a picture of the fuselage released overnight.

“One occupant is visible amidst the wreckage,” the Air Accident Investigation Branch said in a statement. “The AAIB is now considering the next steps, in consultation with the families of the pilot and passenger, and the police.”

Recovering the body without raising the wreckage is complex, according to Ross Taylor of A-to-Sea Solutions, whose survey ship was used in the search.

“ROVs are sometimes able to grab on to items, but whether that would happen I don’t know,” Taylor said. “Divers can also get down to that depth but it’s a much bigger operation. In 25 meters to 30 meters of water, it would be a lot easier, but in 70 meters, it would be a much bigger operation.”

Investigators plan to release an interim report into the accident this month. Parts of the plane were first believed to have been discovered last week when two seat cushions were found on the French coast.

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