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WORLD | 28-01-2019 14:32

Family of missing footballer Emiliano Sala oversee new search 

Family and friends of missing Argentine went on a special flight Monday to view the area over the English Channel where his plane disappeared last week.

Family and friends of missing Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala went on a special flight Monday to view the area over the English Channel where his plane disappeared last week.

They went on a "scenic flight" that circled the island of Alderney, according to Aurigny, an airline that operates in the Channel Islands.

With the help of top footballers, more than 300,000 euros (US$340,000) have been raised online to allow Sala's family to fund a private search after an official rescue operation for the light aircraft carrying Sala and pilot David Ibbotson was called off on Thursday. The flight was going from the French city of Nantes to Cardiff, where Sala was set to start playing for his new club in the Premier League.

President Mauricio Macri and Argentine footballing legends Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona were among those making pleas to resume a search.

David Mearns, a US-born marine scientist and shipwreck-hunting specialist who is based in southeast England, is helping with the private search.

Mearns, of Bluewater Recoveries, says he has located 24 major shipwrecks. He said on Monday that two fishing boats were searching the sea around the island of Guernsey as part of the search.

"We have managed with the funds we have raised to resume the searches," Mearns said at a press conference in Guernsey airport that was shown by British broadcasters.

"This is a family that has come from Argentina with this huge shock out of nowhere and [is] struggling with what had happened, with very, very few answers about an unexplained loss," Mearns said. "They're looking at this as a missing person, a missing plane and until they are satisfied, that's the mode that we are in."

The official search was abandoned after three days, with Guernsey harbour master Captain David Barker saying the chances of survival after such a long period are "extremely remote."

Mearns said a survey vessel equipped with sonar and a remotely operated vehicle was being readied in the port of Southampton in southern England to begin the underwater search "on the weekend, most probably on Sunday".

The search will focus on an area of roughly 25 square nautical miles where the plane disappeared from radar. He said the depth of the sea in the area was only around 65 metres (2015 feet), going down to 110 metres at most.

"This will be one of the shallowest projects I have done in my career," he said.

"The biggest complication is the weather," he said. "We cannot guarantee that we will find the plane. The family are determined to get answers that they don't have right now".

Mearns said Sala's family now had "a better appreciation" of the efforts made by rescuers from Britain, France and Guernsey who carried out the search last week.

Record signing

Cardiff signed Sala from Nantes for a club-record fee, reported to be 15 million pounds (US$19 million), on January 19. The striker left the Welsh capital after completing the move and returned to Nantes to collect his belongings and say goodbye to teammates and staff of the French club.

Cardiff's first game since Sala's disappearance will be at Arsenal on Tuesday, and manager Neil Warnock said some of his players have needed "help from outside" the club to deal with the situation.

"One or two of the lads, I think it was only right that they speak to people who might help them in his situation," Warnock said. "You don't realise the trauma that it causes a lot of families, whether it's memories brought back or different situations."

Warnock said it had been the most difficult week of his 39-year managerial career.

"I think that it is such a strange situation," he said. "I don't think we could have played a game on Saturday, but it doesn't get that much better this morning ... I don't know how it's going to be in the next 24 hours."

- TIMES/AFP/AP

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