The missing plane carrying Argentine soccer player Emiliano Sala and his pilot has been found, investigators said on Sunday.
Sala, 28, was traveling from France to join up with his new club, English Premier League side Cardiff City, in a light aircraft manned by David Ibbotson on Jan. 21 when it disappeared close to the Channel Islands.
Tributes were paid to the striker on both sides of the Channel over the weekend as hopes faded he would be found alive and the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch on Sunday said the plane’s wreckage had been discovered.
“I can confirm it has been found,” a spokesperson said.
Sala’s father, Horacio, spoke of his shock from his home in Progresso, Argentina, telling Cronica TV: “I can’t believe it. It’s a bad dream.”
Horacio was the only member of the Sala family to stay behind in Argentina as the others rushed to France to try to help with the search.
“I talk to them every day, but since I don’t have WhatsApp it’s expensive to call them or for them to call me. But anyway, they kept saying days were going by and that there had been zero word on Emiliano or on the plane,” he said.
Suspected debris from the plane washed up on the Normandy coastline in France on Wednesday last week.
Sala was traveling in the Piper PA-46 Malibu plane after transferring from French team Nantes in a 17 million euro (US$19.3 million) move — a record deal for the Welsh team.
It vanished from radar about 20km north of Guernsey, with pilot Ibbotson the only other person aboard.
David Mearns, whose private company, Blue Water Recoveries, was hired by Sala’s family to search for the plane, said on Twitter that the wreckage was spotted early on Sunday.
“There’s a substantial amount of wreckage on the seabed,” he wrote. “This is about the best result we could have hoped for the families.”
Top soccer players were among more than 4,500 contributors to a crowdfunding page that raised more than 300,000 euros to look for the wreckage.
Speaking after Cardiff’s match against AFC Bournemouth on Saturday, manager Neil Warnock said Sala would have been “really proud” of the team after they won 2-0 in their first home match since the plane vanished.
Program notes, penned by owner Vincent Tan and the rest of the Bluebirds’ board, said events had shaken “Cardiff City to its very core,” and that they were now playing for Sala and pilot Ibbotson.
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