Monday, October 21, 2019

WORLD | 05-02-2019 16:13

Investigators try to recover body from wreckage of Emiliano Sala's plane 

The shipwreck hunter who found the remains of the plane on Sunday urged the authorities to urgently recover the body.

British crash investigators say they are trying to recover the body spotted in the seabed wreckage of the plane that was carrying Argentine football player Emiliano Sala and his pilot.

The aircraft disappeared over the English Channel on January 21 as it flew from the French city of Nantes to Cardiff, where Sala was due to start playing in the Premier League.

Authorities haven't said if the body located by an underwater camera was Sala or pilot David Ibbotson, the only people on board.

Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch says "we are attempting to [recover] the body. If we are successful, we will consider the feasibility of recovering the aircraft wreckage."

The wreckage was discovered on Sunday.

In a statement, the AAIB cautioned that "strong tidal conditions mean we can only use the remotely operated vehicle for limited periods each day and this will mean that progress is slow."

Discoverer urges recovery op

The shipwreck hunter who found the remains of the plane on Sunday urged the authorities to urgently recover the body.

"Time is of the essence when you're talking about a body, so really it's imperative that they proceed with the recovery of the plane and the body," David Mearns said.

Mearns was hired by Sala's family to find the light aircraft after it disappeared. He found the wreckage on Sunday, before the AAIB took over the operation. They revealed on Monday that a body had been found at the site.

"Finding it is just the starting point. The AAIB has got to investigate it... The best outcome for the families would be to find the plane and recover both bodies," Mearns said. "As tragic as the loss is, it's made much, much worse if the body is never recovered or they never get an answer to what happened."

He is back at his home in England, but confirmed that AAIB divers are currently on the site, trying to establish what to do next.

"You have to see whether you can lift the plane without disturbing the body and also making sure that you're picking it all up," he said.

The discovery of two seat cushions on the French coast last week revealed that the plane was broken, Mearns added.

"It's in one area [on the seabed], it's all one mass, but some bits may not be connected. So what you don't want to do is to disturb the body in a way that you lose it," he said.

'A matter of will'

Sala's family raised more than 370,000 euros (US$422,000) in an online campaign to pay for the private search, with donations from 4,800 people, including top footballers.

"Had that not happened, I don't think anybody would have searched for the plane," Mearns said. "We were told by the AAIB that they didn't feel that there was much to be gained... They felt it was going to be more difficult."

In the end, the AAIB chartered a ship to join Mearns on Sunday, and they identified the wreckage. He said recovery was now "technically possible – the water depth isn't an issue really, and the weather can be managed with the right ship. It's a matter of will to do it."

Mearns was keen to praise the efforts by the Guernsey authorities in the days immediately after the plane disappeared. They called off the search only after concluding that no one would be found alive.

Sala was flying from France to join up with his new club, Premier League side Cardiff City, when the Piper PA-46 Malibu dropped off the radar north of Guernsey.

He had just transferred from French team Nantes the previous weekend, in a 17-million-euro move – a record deal for the Welsh team.


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