Robotic submarines are being used in the mission to recover bodies onboard the crashed plane which was carrying footballer Emiliano Sala to start his career with Cardiff FC.
Specialist underwater machines and marine scientists are being used to assess the wreckage of the doomed aircraft 220ft down on the seabed of the English Channel after it was finally found on Sunday.
Bad weather conditions are slowing the team down but the Air Accidents Investigation Branch revealed they will attempt to bring the body – or bodies – out.
Now, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) is being sent down to the depths to establish how the wreckage and those inside could be returned to the surface.
Both Mr Sala and pilot David Ibbotson were onboard the light aircraft when it went missing after leaving Nantes, France on January 21.
An official search ended after four days but world renowned marine scientist David Mearns spearheaded a new search for the families.
The plane is approximately 67m underwater.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) confirmed on Monday that a body had been detected in the plane by remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) scanning the site.
A spokesman for the AAIB said: ‘We are attempting to recover the body. If we are successful, we will consider the feasibility of recovering the aircraft wreckage.
‘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.
‘Regardless of the results, we will not be making a further statement until the families have been informed.’
The recovery bid came after Emiliano Sala’s father pleaded with investigators to salvage the wreckage of his son’s plane so his family can finally get answers.
This is the first picture of the wreckage of Emiliano Sala’s plane on the bottom of the Channel after it was located yesterday
Emiliano Sala (pictured) has been missing since after his plane went down over the English Channel on January 21 – but the wreckage has been found a fortnight on
Heartbroken Horacio Sala thanked search teams who located the aircraft on Sunday and now hopes they can ‘find out what happened’ and ‘have some degree of certainty.’
A haunting image of the wreckage was released by the Air Accident Investigation Branch, as the agency revealed it contains the body of either Sala or his pilot David Ibbotson.
Marine scientist David Mearns’ team found the plane nearly two weeks after it disappeared after he volunteered to help the Sala family for free after initial search and rescue efforts by a number of agencies failed.
Mr Sala said: ‘We hope that they can rescue him as soon as possible in order to find out what happened, or at least to have some degree of certainty.
He acknowledged ‘all the players that have contributed and given money because it was an expensive search’ and added he’d like to ‘thank all the people that have supported everyone.’
Emiliano Sala’s father Horacio (pictured last week) has told how he hopes rescue teams can now salvage the plane so they can find out what happened
Mr Mearns told ITV News the Sala family are ‘desperately hoping’ for a salvage operation as they believe it was ‘the only route to get the answers about what had happened and why this plane had crashed.’
Mr Mearns tweeted this morning: ‘I would like to acknowledge the team from A-2-Sea Solutions Ltd of Southampton who pulled out all the stops to get the FPV MORVEN rapidly mobilised and repositioned to Guernsey.
‘The team performed very well and the Sala family are very thankful for their efforts.’
An AAIB spokesman said yesterday after video footage of the plane was released: ‘Tragically, in video footage from the ROV, one occupant is visible amidst the wreckage.
‘The AAIB is now considering the next steps, in consultation with the families of the pilot and passenger, and the police’.
The new image of the plane shows the rear left side of the fuselage, including part of the aircraft registration, N264DB.
A decision has yet to be taken on whether to raise the wreckage to the surface.
The statement added: ‘The AAIB is now considering the next steps, in consultation with the families of the pilot and passenger, and the police.’
The families of the £15million striker and his pilot Mr Ibbotson are still waiting to hear whose body is in the fuselage of the Piper Malibu that vanished in a storm two weeks ago.
Sala’s bereft father who is still in Argentina and has not joined his ex-wife, son and daughter in Britain, told reporters yesterday when the plane was first located: ‘I cannot believe it …. this is a dream … a bad dream … I’m desperate’.
The coastguard abandoned their search last week after ruling out any survivors of the air crash with the footballer’s family brought in a celebrated shipwreck hunter to lead the search.
This map has been issued by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch showing the position where the wreckage of the plane which was carrying Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala was discovered
The sea search vessel FPV Morven picked up the wreckage using sonar yesterday morning and an unmanned Air Accident Investigation Branch submarine sent to the sea bed used an HD camera to identify the blue and white aircraft.
Mr Mearns and his team, working in conjunction with the AAIB, found the remains of the plane within two hours of starting their search.
He said he had stayed in regular contact with the Sala family by text message because of the language barrier.
He said: ‘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.’
Marine Scientist David Mearns, is interviewed by reporters as he leaves Guernsey after he helped discover the wreckage of the plane that was carrying footballer Emiliano Sala
The 19-metre survey vessel FPV Morven returning into St Peter Port Harbour following the first day seabed search for the plane
Midday yesterday: Poor weather and high seas could hamper the recovery operation with an approaching storm shown in red on the left of the image
A view of boats in Guernsey harbour shrouded in fog as the investigation continues off the coast of Alderney at the scene of the wreckage of the plane that was carrying footballer Emiliano Sala
Midday tomorrow The rough conditions are set to worsen with the peak of the bad weather due later in the week
Mr Mearns 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.
‘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.
Shipwreck hunter David Mearns has been keeping in contact with Sala’s family by text despite the language barrier
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.’
The specialist search for the missing plane began off the coast of Guernsey on Sunday morning and located the wreckage on the seabed just hours later.
Sala and pilot Ibbotson left Nantes in France for Cardiff on January 21 – after the star signed for the Welsh Premier League team, disappearing over the Channel.
The specialist FPV Morven ship, pictured in Guernsey, was being used in a privately funded search for the plane of missing footballer Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) Geo Ocean III moved in to assist the Morven when it discovered wreckage. Geo sent an ROV to visually identify the wreck on the seabed
The official search was called off after four days but Sala’s friends, family and fans clubbed together to pay for a private search to continue with renowned shipwreck hunter Mr Mearns.
On Sunday morning, their efforts paid off.
Geo Ocean III left Ostend in Belgium at 9am and began combing the area. Within hours it was search vessel FPV Morven which picked up a sonar signal from the depths.
The wreckage of the Piper Malibu was formally identified by officials from the Air Accident Investigation Board.
The AAIB’s vessel deployed a remote-controlled submarine to examine the plane and they confirmed it was the craft carrying the striker.
A track of the FPV Morven shows it returning to shore after the wreckage was discovered
Mr Mearns told Sky News: ‘This is about the best result we could have hoped for the families’
The discovery came just two days after cushions from a plane were found on a beach near Surtainville in Normandy, France, directly east of Guernsey where the plane disappeared from radar.
A four mile square area, based on the flight path before the plane lost contact, was covered.
The official search after the plane’s disappearance was called off after three days as officials didn’t believe there was much chance of anyone having survived.
An online petition was then started which raised more than £300,000 to put on a privately-funded search using a specialist survey vessel.
More than 3,500 people had responded to the appeal for funds and the target was broken with the help of a £26,000 donation from French World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe.
The boat, operated by global marine cable installation firm A-2-Sea, is equipped with the latest technology.
It includes a multi-beam echosounder and side-scan sonar, which can detect anomalies on the seabed.
The Piper Malibu carrying Sala from Nantes to Cardiff vanished over Alderney on January 21 and is feared to have plunged into one of the Channel’s most perilous areas, known as Hurd’s Deep
Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson (pictured) disappeared when their plane vanished as it passed near Alderney on 21 January
Marine scientist David Mearns, 60, lead the private search in the four mile square area
Mr Mearns claims to have found 24 major shipwrecks, led the group during the search.
He said that the boat, called Morven, was brought from Southampton to Guernsey six hours earlier than scheduled to take advantage of a break in the weather.
Mr Mearns said both vessels would divide the search area looking for ‘wreckage’ and a ‘debris field’ in a depth of 60-120m (196-390ft).
Emiliano Sala’s mother and sister arrived at Guernsey Airport following a flight out to the search area west of Alderney on January 28