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'Shipwreck Hunter' who found Sala plane says recovery of wreckage 'imperative'

'Shipwreck Hunter' who found Sala plane says recovery of wreckage 'imperative'
© Reuters
David Mearns volunteered to help the family of Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala for free after initial search and rescue efforts failed.

The man who found the wreckage of the plane carrying missing Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala has said it is "imperative" it is raised from the seabed to provide answers to his family.

The Piper Malibu N264DB carrying Sala, 28, and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, was discovered off the coast of Alderney in the English Channel on Sunday evening – almost two weeks after it disappeared.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) confirmed on Monday that a body is visible in the wreck, which is about 67m deep.

Marine scientist David Mearns – known as "the Shipwreck Hunter" – volunteered to help the Sala family for free after initial search and rescue efforts by a number of agencies failed.

Mr Mearns and his team, working in conjunction with the AAIB, found the remains of the plane within two hours of starting their search.

Speaking to the Press Association, 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."

He said lifting the plane was now the most important task.

Mr Mearns added: "(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."

He 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.

Where the missing plane wreckage was found
(PA Graphics)

"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."

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A tribute to Emiliano Sala is shown on screen before Arsenal's game with Cardiff City on January 29, 2019
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