The devastated family of a pilot feared dead in a plane crash with soccer star Emiliano Sala has tonight paid tribute to the man with the ‘cheeky smile’ in heartfelt handwritten messages left at a makeshift shrine in his home village.
Words and prayers for the much-loved father-of-three David Ibbotson are their first public outpouring of grief while the world’s media have focused on the footballer’s family.
Police officers today visited his wife Nora after news from air accident investigators that wreckage of the doomed craft and a body had been found at the bottom of the English Channel after the aircraft he was flying went missing on January 21 between Nantes, France and Cardiff.
The corpse has not yet been identified.
Pilot David Ibbotson and his wife, Nora Ibbotson. The frequent flyer went missing with his plane on January 21
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.
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.’
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.’
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.’
A cafe owner in the tiny close-knit village said: ‘This is a dreadful tragedy, our hearts go out to the family and we want them to know we are here to support them.’
The plane was found on the seabed of the English Channel after ‘shipwreck hunter’ marine scientist David Mearns stepped forward to help find the wreckage.
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
This is the first picture of the wreckage of Emiliano Sala’s plane on the bottom of the Channel
Emiliano Sala (pictured) has been missing since after his plane went down over the English Channel on January 21 – but the wreckage has been found a fortnight on
This map has been issued by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch showing the position where the wreckage of the plane which was carrying Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala was discovered
The plane was found on Sunday and divers revealed there is a body on board on Monday.
David Mearns volunteered to help the Sala family for free after initial search and rescue efforts by a number of agencies failed. His team located the plane 220ft down on the seabed.
Haunting image of the wreckage was released by the Air Accident Investigation Branch today, as the agency revealed it contains the body of either Sala or his pilot David Ibbotson.
Mr Mearns said: ‘(The AAIB) will be able to rule things out or rule things in, that’s the normal investigative process for any crash, so I think it’s imperative that the plane is recovered, and now even more so now we know someone is down there.’
An AAIB spokesman said: ‘Tragically, in video footage from the ROV, one occupant is visible amidst the wreckage. The AAIB is now considering the next steps, in consultation with the families of the pilot and passenger, and the police’.
The new image of the plane shows the rear left side of the fuselage, including part of the aircraft registration, N264DB.
A decision has yet to be taken on whether to raise the wreckage to the surface.
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
The statement added: ‘The AAIB is now considering the next steps, in consultation with the families of the pilot and passenger, and the police.’
The families of the £15million striker and his pilot David Ibbotson are waiting to hear whose body is in the fuselage of the Piper Malibu that vanished in a storm two weeks ago.
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’.
The coastguard abandoned their search last week after ruling out any survivors of the air crash with the footballer’s family brought in a celebrated shipwreck hunter to lead the search.
The sea search vessel FPV Morven picked up the wreckage using sonar yesterday morning and an unmanned Air Accident Investigation Branch submarine sent to the sea bed used an HD camera to identify the blue and white aircraft.
Mr Mearns volunteered to help the Sala family for free after initial search and rescue efforts by a number of agencies failed.
Him and his team, working in conjunction with the AAIB, found the remains of the plane within two hours of starting their search.
He said he had stayed in regular contact with the Sala family by text message because of the language barrier.
‘We are informing them every step of the way what’s going on and they are making it clear to us what their priorities are at all times,’ he said.
‘There’s a much greater chance they will get answers if (the plane is) recovered.’
Mr Mearns continued: ‘I haven’t spoken to them verbally, but they were devastated the last time we were here and frankly the news is worse today.
‘Now their worst fears are confirmed, so I would imagine they would be just as devastated – it’s going to take a long time for them to come to terms with the loss.’
Marine Scientist David Mearns, is interviewed by reporters as he leaves Guernsey after he helped discover the wreckage of the plane that was carrying footballer Emiliano Sala
The 19-metre survey vessel FPV Morven returning into St Peter Port Harbour following the first day seabed search for the plane
Midday today: Poor weather and high seas could hamper the recovery operation with an approaching storm shown in red on the left of the image
Midday Thursday: The rough conditions are set to worsen with the peak of the bad weather due later in the week
Shipwreck hunter David Mearns has been keeping in contact with Sala’s family by text despite the language barrier
Mr Mearns said the discovery had been so quick because the team had been looking for a static object rather than in a dynamic environment searching for survivors.
‘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.
Mr Mearns, who has spearheaded around 20 historic wreck discoveries including one of Britain’s most famous battleships the HMS Hood, said with the right equipment it should be a relatively straightforward job to lift the plane.
He said it would need to be done in ‘slack water’ – the point at which the tide is turning.
The operation will be conducted by the Ministry of Defence’s Salvage and Marine Operations (S&MO) in partnership with the AAIB.
Mr Mearns said a salvage vessel equipped for working in the North Sea and a properly equipped dive support vessel would be able to lift the vessel within a matter of days.
When asked if the body would be recovered before the wreck itself, he said: ‘That’s down to the AAIB and their operational people about how they do that.
‘The body will be the most sensitive of objects that they are picking up so they will be very careful about that – they will undoubtedly have people on board who are experienced with the recovery of human remains.
‘Sadly this is not the first time this will have happened. I’m sure they will have the right professionals out there for that.’
The specialist search for the missing plane began off the coast of Guernsey yesterday morning and located the wreckage on the seabed just hours later.
Sala and pilot Ibbotson left Nantes in France for Cardiff on January 21 – after the star signed for the Welsh Premier League team, disappearing over the Channel.
The specialist FPV Morven ship, pictured in Guernsey, was being used in a privately funded search for the plane of missing footballer Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) Geo Ocean III moved in to assist the Morven when it discovered wreckage. Geo sent an ROV to visually identify the wreck on the seabed
The official search was called off after four days but Sala’s friends, family and fans clubbed together to pay for a private search to continue with renowned shipwreck hunter Mr Mearns.
On Sunday morning, their efforts paid off.
Geo Ocean III left Ostend in Belgium at 9am and began combing the area. Within hours it was search vessel FPV Morven which picked up a sonar signal from the depths.
The wreckage of the Piper Malibu was formally identified by officials from the Air Accident Investigation Board.
The AAIB’s vessel deployed a remote-controlled submarine to examine the plane and tonight confirmed it was the craft carrying the striker.
Families of both men have been informed of the discovery.
Sala’s father said last night he had not had any contact with the rest of his family – who are still in a hotel in Nantes – and found out about the plane’s discovery on TV.
‘I communicated with them every day, but since I do not have Whatsapp it’s hard to call them or call me. They told me that the days passed and there was no news of Emiliano or the plane,’ said Horacio.
He said that the family are in the hotel along with ‘eight or nine’ friends who are believed to have received the news from Argentine embassies in France and England, at 9am.
Both the AAIB’s Geo Ocean III vessel and a private boat, which includes a side-scan sonar, were used to try and find the aircraft.
Teams from the AAIB have now moved into location at the site to recover the aircraft.
The vessel that made the discovery was lead by marine scientist David Mearns, who confirmed the identity and location of the plane.
He confirmed that it was in the early stages of this morning’s search, around 9am, the discovery was made.
‘But tonight they have heard devastating news and in respect of the families I won’t comment any further about what has happened.’
The recovery vessel picked up something on the sonar 24 miles off Guernsey and made further passes over the area to pinpoint the location before going through various stages of identification.
David Mearns called the news ‘devastating’ but told Sky News that ‘at least we were able to bring some sort of answer to the families.’
A track of the FPV Morven shows it returning to shore after the wreckage was discovered
Mr Mearns told Sky News: ‘This is about the best result we could have hoped for the families’
The discovery came just two days after cushions from a plane were found on a beach near Surtainville in Normandy, France, directly east of Guernsey where the plane disappeared from radar.
Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson disappeared when their plane vanished as it passed near Alderney on 21 January during a flight from Nantes to Cardiff.
The AAIB said its search was expected to last three days, while the private search will continue ‘until the plane is located’, reported the BBC.
A four mile square area, based on the flight path before the plane lost contact, was covered.
The official search after the plane’s disappearance was called off after three days as officials didn’t believe there was much chance of anyone having survived.
An online petition was then started which raised more than £300,000 to put on a privately-funded search using a specialist survey vessel.
More than 3,500 people had responded to the appeal for funds and the target was broken with the help of a £26,000 donation from French World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe.
The boat, operated by global marine cable installation firm A-2-Sea, is equipped with the latest technology.
It includes a multi-beam echosounder and side-scan sonar, which can detect anomalies on the seabed.
The Piper Malibu carrying Sala from Nantes to Cardiff vanished over Alderney on January 21 and is feared to have plunged into one of the Channel’s most perilous areas, known as Hurd’s Deep
Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson (pictured) disappeared when their plane vanished as it passed near Alderney on 21 January
Marine scientist David Mearns, 60, lead the private search in the four mile square area
David Mearns, who claims to have found 24 major shipwrecks, led the group during the search.
He said that the boat, called Morven, was brought from Southampton to Guernsey six hours earlier than scheduled to take advantage of a break in the weather.
Mr Mearns said both vessels would divide the search area looking for ‘wreckage’ and a ‘debris field’ in a depth of 60-120m (196-390ft).
Members of Mr Sala’s family and friends arrived in Guernsey last Saturday and several members of the group were later taken to the small island of Burhou.
Emiliano Sala’s mother and sister arrived at Guernsey Airport following a flight out to the search area west of Alderney on January 28
The islet was the focus of social media attention on the night of the disappearance after members of the public shared a picture which appeared to show flares coming from the island.
However, John Fitzgerald, the director of Channel Islands Air Search, said the island and its surrounding area had been searched many times.
He added: ‘It is really a puffin reserve. It is tiny but you can land on it,’ he said. ‘The plane and helicopters have been over many times since [the night the plane vanished], but they haven’t seen anything in that area.
‘It is only a few hundred metres long and it has been saturated by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
‘The flares I have seen pictures of are most likely aircraft trails.’