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.
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.
The Piper Malibu aircraft remained more than 200 feet below water and is 21 miles off the coast of Guernsey in the English Channel for more than two weeks 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.’
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.
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.’
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’.
Source: Daily Mail