A vessel carrying the wreckage of a plane which crashed into the English Channel with Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala on board is preparing to dock in Dorset.
The Geo Ocean III was pictured today off the south coast returning to Portland Port, as investigators wait to confirm if the body found inside is that of the pilot or the footballer.
The plane flying from Nantes, France to Cardiff on January 21 went missing with the new £15million signing Sala and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, inside.
The Geo Ocean III was pictured today off the south coast returning to Portland Port, as investigators wait to confirm if the body found inside is that of the pilot or the footballer
It remains unclear whether the body is that of the Argentine forward or Mr Ibbotson but a full examination by a coroner in Portland, Dorset, is due to take place.
Remotely operated Vehicles (ROVs) were used in ‘challenging conditions’ to pull the body out of the water ‘in as dignified a way as possible’, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said on Wednesday night.
Emiliano Sala was onboard the plane when it went missing off the coast of France on January 21
Timeline: How the Sala tragedy unfolded
January 21, 2019:
The single-turbine engine Piper PA-46 Malibu leaves Nantes at 7.15pm for Cardiff and is flying at an altitude of 5,000ft. At 8.50pm the plane disappears from radar in the English Channel.
The French civil aviation authority confirms Argentinian footballer Emiliano Sala, 28, who had just signed for Cardiff City, was on board the light aircraft. Piloting the plane was David Ibbotson, from Crowle, near Scunthorpe.
Guernsey’s harbour master Captain David Barker says the chances Sala and Mr Ibbotson have survived is ‘extremely remote’.
It emerges that football agent Willie McKay arranged for the flight to take Sala to Cardiff but he says he had no involvement in selecting the plane or pilot. He also backs calls for the search to continue.
Relatives and friends of Sala arrive in Guernsey, having enlisted the help of shipwreck hunting expert David Mearns.
Sala’s family, including his mother Mercedes and sister Romina, take a chartered flight in a plane operated by Guernsey airline Aurigny over the area where the plane disappeared.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) says two seat cushions found washed up earlier in the week near Surtainville on the Cotentin Peninsula are likely to have come from the plane carrying Sala and his pilot.
Wreckage of the plane is located in a fresh, privately funded search which was made possible after a fundraising campaign saw more than £260,000 donated.
A body is visible in seabed video footage of the wreckage of the plane. The AAIB says the footage was filmed using an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) which was surveying the area after the plane was located.
A body seen in the wreckage of the plane is recovered. The AAIB says the body will be taken to Portland to be passed over to the Dorset coroner for examination.
The aircraft remains 67 metres underwater 21 miles off the coast of Guernsey. The AAIB says attempts to recover the aircraft wreckage were unsuccessful and, due to continued poor weather forecast, ‘the difficult decision was taken to bring the overall operation to a close’.
The Piper Malibu aircraft remains more than 200 feet below water and is 21 miles off the coast of Guernsey in the English Channel as poor weather conditions stopped efforts to recover it.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said: ‘Following extensive visual examination of the accident site using the remotely operated vehicle (ROV), it was decided to attempt recovery operations.
‘In challenging conditions, the AAIB and its specialist contractors successfully recovered the body previously seen amidst the wreckage. The operation was carried out in as dignified a way as possible and the families were kept informed of progress.’
The statement said it has not been possible to bring the wreckage to the surface and the operation has now ceased.
It continued: ‘Unfortunately, attempts to recover the aircraft wreckage were unsuccessful before poor weather conditions forced us to return the ROV to the ship.
‘The weather forecast is poor for the foreseeable future and so the difficult decision was taken to bring the overall operation to a close. The body is currently being taken to Portland to be passed into the care of the Dorset Coroner.
‘Although it was not possible to recover the aircraft, the extensive video record captured by the ROV is expected to provide valuable evidence for our safety investigation.’
The official search was called off on January 24 after Guernsey’s harbour master claimed the chances of survival for those on board was ‘extremely remote’.
Yet the remains of the aircraft were tracked down by a team co-ordinated by ocean scientist David Mearns, who has located some of the most elusive wrecks in the world.
Mr Mearns – known as the ‘Shipwreck Hunter’ – and his team located the aircraft within two hours of commencing their search.
He said he discovery had been so quick because the team had been looking for a static object rather than in a dynamic environment searching for survivors.
The wreckage was found on Sunday after specialist robotic submarines were brought in.
The sea search vessel FPV Morven picked up the wreckage using sonar and an unmanned Air Accident Investigation Branch submarine sent to the sea bed used an HD camera to identify the blue and white aircraft.
‘No-one should walk away with the impression that the Coastguard and also the Channel Islands air search did anything other than a professional job,’ he said.
The AAIB said it expected to publish an interim report within the month.
While it is not clear who the body was both families have grieved for the men.
Mr Ibbotson’s heartbroken daughter, sister and nephew were among loved ones paying respects to the 60-year-old gas engineer, part time pilot and devoted family man, earlier this week.
His younger sister Helen Kapatysulias wrote: ‘To David, my gentle brother. I have so many memories of you, mine is of you when you were coming home from school, you used to pick me up and carry me home. I will lock these memories in my heart forever.
‘All I would like is to see your face, smiling, cheekily, again. I know you’re safe wherever you are. I pray that one day I will see you again, my gentle Big Brother.
‘I love you forever and always and will never forget you.’
David Ibbotson pictured with his wife, Nora Ibbotson was flying the plane which went missing over the Channel
The official search could not locate the plane – but after a private effort was launched with robotic submarines – it was found over the weekend
One body from the wreckage of the plane has been recovered more than 20 miles off the coast of Guernsey
Geo Ocean III specialist search vessel off the coast of Alderney in the English Channel
Emiliano Sala’s sister Romina (left) and mother Mercedes (centre) listen to Blue Water Recoveries director David Mearns talk about plans to find and recover the plane
Poor weather and high seas could hamper the recovery operation with an approaching storm shown in red on the left of the image after the plane was seen underwater
His daughter penned In loving memory of a dear Dad: ‘Daddio, Words cannot describe how much I am going to miss you. You are the best dad anybody could wish for and I will love you always. I have (word illegible) memories and will pass these on to anybody I meet. All my love Vicki.’
Pilot David Ibbotson and his wife, Nora Ibbotson. The frequent flyer went missing with his plane on January 21
In another tribute amongst dozens laid around a tree in the market square in his home village of Crowle, near Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire, his nephew Tim wrote: ‘To my uncle David. We hope that the angels are looking and guiding you home to us. I love you lots.’
A verse on one condolence card reads: ‘We’re never really ready when it’s time to say goodbye, but slowly we accept what has to be. Letting go on what we must but keeping those we love forever close to us in memory.’
Mr Ibbotson decided to fly the plane at the eleventh hour.
An experienced pilot chartered by football agent Willie McKay to fly Emiliano Sala drafted in a ‘rusty’ part-time replacement and covered the costs on his credit card causing confusion when the plane vanished, it was revealed.
The 19-metre survey vessel FPV Morven returning into St Peter Port Harbour following the first day seabed search for the plane
Messages were left around the base of a tree in Crowle for the pilot after a body was found at the bottom of the Channel
Mr McKay wanted his usual pilot David Henderson, 60, to carry the Argentinian striker to Britain but he drafted in David Ibbotson, 59, after asking him: ‘Do you want to spend a weekend in Nantes?’
Mr Ibbotson, a boiler engineer and part-time pilot, told a friend he was ‘a bit rusty’ with the instruments of the 35-year-old aircraft and it did not have the licence to carry paying passengers.
Describing the time period since, Mr McKay, a mega-agent renowned for his contacts in France, told l’Equipe sports newspaper that it has ‘been an absolute nightmare for us.’
The 19-metre survey vessel FPV Morven returning into St Peter Port Harbour following the first day seabed search for the plane
Emiliano Sala’s father Horacio (pictured last week) has told how he was ‘desperate’ and in a ‘bad dream’ after the plane’s wreckage was found on the sea bed
He said that if he had not allowed Sala to return to his old club, Nantes, to say goodbye to his former teammates and put his beloved dog Nala in kennels ‘he would still be with us’.
Cardiff had originally proposed funding a commercial flight for Sala but the McKay family instead funded a private plane. ‘When you spend €17m on a footballer, you don’t put him on an EasyJet flight,’ McKay said.
His mother Mercedes and his sister flew to Guernsey while the search operation got underway.
Sala’s bereft father Horacio, who has not joined his ex-wife, son and daughter in Britain, told reporters in the Argentinian town of Progreso: ‘I cannot believe it …. this is a dream … a bad dream … I’m desperate’.
French club Nantes launch legal bid to force Cardiff to pay £15m transfer fee for Emiliano Sala despite striker being feared dead in plane crash before he played a game for the Welsh side
ADAM CRAFTON, MATT LAWTON and IAN HERBERT FOR THE DAILY MAIL
Cardiff City have been left stunned after Nantes demanded payment for the £15million transfer of Emiliano Sala, who is missing and feared dead, after his flight went off-radar on a journey from France to Cardiff.
The Premier League club were shocked to receive a formal letter from Nantes on Tuesday asking for payment within 10 days.
The two clubs are now embroiled in a legal dispute.
Nantes submitted a formal letter to Cardiff on Tuesday asking for payment within 10 days
Cardiff’s first payment would ordinarily be due within seven days of the player signing, but the club do not intend to make any payments until the conclusion of official investigations into the causes of his disappearance.
However, Nantes made an email request last Thursday and then followed it up with a formal written request on Tuesday.
On Wednesday night, Cardiff City chairman Mehmet Dalman confirmed Nantes’ request in an interview with L’Equipe. He said: ‘The only thing I can say because it is a sensitive subject is that I confirm that what you are saying is true.
Vincent Tan’s Cardiff will withhold payment until investigation over disappearance is complete
‘And to be honest, I do not want to say anything more in the state. The first thing is that the body has not been recovered yet. We must show respect to the family.
‘There is the process of recovering the plane. It’s too early for us to comment. When we think it’s the right time to do it (we will comment). I do not think the Cardiff club said it was not going to pay.’
Sala’s mother, sister and brother have this week been in the company of the Argentine consular in France as investigations continued after a private plane carrying Sala and pilot David Ibbotson went off-radar on January 21.
Sala’s mother (C) has been with the Argentine consular in France as investigations continue
The situation has been made more complicated by Bordeaux having 50 per cent sell-on clause
A body has been located in the aircraft but the two families were still to be informed of the identity as of Wednesday.
The Sala family are currently in Nantes anxiously awaiting the fate of Emiliano and are still to learn whether it is even his body in the aircraft.
There is understandable bewilderment from those close to Sala that distasteful financial discussions can even be taking place while the search for his body continues.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch have been searching the English channel for the wreckage.
This map shows the position where the wreckage of the plane carrying Sala was discovered
Marine scientist David Mearns has confirmed a body has been located still in the aircraft
An official investigation into the crash, including the pilot’s qualifications and the condition of the plane, is likely to follow.
The situation is further complicated as French club Bordeaux are also due 50 per cent of the reported £15m transfer due to a clause inserted when Sala joined Nantes in 2015.
Last week Bordeaux publicly denied that they had invoiced Nantes for their cut of the deal. When contacted by Sportsmail to establish whether they intend to pursue their fee, Bordeaux did not respond.
Cardiff are understood to be insured up to £16m but the club may still incur excess when it comes to covering the salary for the duration of Sala’s three-and-a-half-year contract and the lost revenue that was anticipated for their club-record signing. This would take the overall value of the transfer to around £25m.
The Piper Malibu carrying Sala from Nantes to Cardiff vanished over Alderney on January 21
A picture of the type of plane which was supposed to deliver the striker to Cardiff safely
EMILIANO SALA TIMELINE
Wednesday, 5 December, 2018: Cardiff manager Neil Warnock first reveals his interest in signing Sala after travelling to France to watch the striker play for Nantes against Marseilles.
Thursday, 27 December: Cardiff’s pursuit of Sala looks to be over after having their bid rejected by Nantes.
Tuesday, 1 January, 2019: As the January transfer window opens, Cardiff revive their interest in Sala and resume negotiations with Nantes over a fee worth around £15m.
Wednesday, 16 January: Sala starts on the bench against Nimes amid speculation around his future and comes on in the second half for what would be his last game for Nantes.
Friday, 18 January: Sala travels to Cardiff to have a medical and discuss personal terms at Cardiff City Stadium, where he is pictured with Bluebirds fans afterwards.
Saturday, 19 January: Cardiff confirm their club-record signing of Sala for an undisclosed fee thought to be around £15m.
Sunday, 20 January: Sala travels back to Nantes to say goodbye to his team-mates and collect his belongings as he prepares for his move to Cardiff.
Monday, 21 January: Sala flies from Nantes to Cardiff at 19:15 but, at 20:30, the Piper Malibu light aircraft he is aboard goes missing off Alderney in the Channel Islands.
The plane had been flying at 5,000ft when it contacted Jersey air traffic control requesting descent, the plane lost contact while at 2,300ft.
Tuesday, 22 January: Searches for the plane are suspended at 02:00 ‘due to strengthening winds, worsening sea conditions and reducing visibility’, according to police, before the search resumes at 08:00.
Wednesday, 23 January: Search and rescue operations for the plane resumed early on Wednesday. Sala’s father, Horatio, said he was ‘beginning to think the worst.’
Friday, 25 January: The search for the missing plane is called off after rescuers failed to find ‘any trace’ of it.
Guernsey’s harbour master Captain David Barker said the chances Sala and his pilot David Ibbotson had survived were ‘extremely remote’.
Monday, 28 January: Over €300,000 is raised to help pay for a private search for Sala. The fund exceeded the target after a donation of €30,010 from Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe.
Wednesday, 30 January: Two seat cushions from the plane carrying Sala are found washed up on a beach in north-west France.
Thursday, 31 January: A piece of debris found washed ashore in the Port of Rotterdam by local police is found. Quickly confirmed it did not come from the plane carrying Sala
Monday, 4 February: Underwater video footage shows one occupant visible in wreckage of the plane which was carrying Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala. The body is yet to be identified.
Nantes are responsible for paying the intermediaries involved. In November, the club enlisted the services of Mercato Ltd, the business run by Mark McKay and his father Willie, who helped organise the doomed flight. Agents Bakari Sanogo and Baba Drame are also due cuts from the Nantes side of the deal.
If the air investigation is followed by involvement from the police, it could therefore be years before the financial and legal disputes are resolved.
In the fortnight following his disappearance, much of the support for the family has come from Sala’s personal agent Meissa N’Diaye, who has worked with the French equivalent of the Professional Footballers’ Association to fundraise for the private search that located part of the aircraft on the seabed.
Willie McKay (pictured) and his son Mark helped organise Sala’s doomed flight to Cardiff
N’Diaye, who also represents Manchester City’s Benjamin Mendy and Crystal Palace’s Michy Batshuayi, had no involvement with the McKays and has pledged he will provide all the necessary support to the family in the months and years to come.
The Sala family are currently staying in Nantes. When asked to detail what the French club are doing to support the family, the club did not respond.
Sala is understood to have been unhappy at Nantes for much of the past 18 months. His contract was due to expire next year and, despite public suggestions he would be offered a renewal, no offer was forthcoming.
Attempts were then made to sell Sala to Italy last summer and, in November, the mandate was granted to British intermediary Mark McKay to secure a transfer by the end of the January transfer window.
Sala had previously turned down a move to China last February and a proposed transfer that would have seen him secure £4.5m per year (net) in salary.
Fans laid flowers and tributes outside the Cardiff City stadium before their game last weekend
Nantes fans display a banner of Sala last month in their first match since his disappearance
When Sala, a fluent Spanish and French speaker, received an email from Willie McKay touting the Cardiff move in his personal inbox, he was baffled as he did not speak any English.
Indeed, it is believed his initial response to the email was a firm ‘no’. He was not keen on the transfer to Wales but feeling forced out at Nantes and, aware that Cardiff were the only serious bidders, the striker warmed to the move over the course of January.
Indeed, on his first trip to Wales, he left the premises still undecided as to whether to make the move and insisted he took time to discuss things with friends and family. Ultimately, the transfer went through and the ramifications will endure for years to come.