The family of missing footballer Emiliano Sala are set to launch an underwater search for the Cardiff striker’s plane this weekend.
The Argentinian player’s mother and sister arrived in Guernsey today and have raised funds for a private search in a 33-square-mile area in the English Channel.
The Piper PA-46 Malibu carrying 28-year-old Sala and pilot David Ibbotson from Nantes disappeared on January 21 after losing contact with Jersey air traffic control.
The police search and rescue operation was called off on Thursday but the family have enlisted marine scientist David Mearns to help with the private search.
US-born Mr Mearns, who claims to have located 24 major shipwrecks during his career, has been called in after a funding campaign backed by Premier League stars Laurent Koscielny and Ilkay Gundogan raised nearly £260,000.
Emiliano’s mother Mercedes and sister Romina listen to Blue Water Recoveries director David Mearns in Guernsey
Emiliano Sala’s mother and sister begin a new search for plane after the official search was called off after four days
On Monday, his family, including his mother Mercedes and sister Romina, went up into the air to the area his plane was last located.
The group travelled on a twin-engine Dornier 228-212 plane which flew from Guernsey Airport and circled the island of Alderney, a week after the plane Sala was in dropped off the radar.
Mr Mearns said as long as the footballer is missing answers should be sought.
Speaking to reporters in Guernsey, he said: ‘The family still have some hope, they’re looking at this as a missing person, a missing plane, and until they are satisfied, that’s the mode that we’re in.’
He said: ‘Since the official search was terminated on Thursday we have managed with the funds we have raised to resume the searches.
‘Initially this involved two fishing boats – one from Guernsey and one from the UK which were fishing in the area of the last radar contact of the plane and they agreed to visually scan the surface waters and try to spot any part of the plane or any trace of the victims.
‘In parallel, we have sourced and hired a survey vessel equipped with state-of-the-art search equipment, which will be used to conduct an underwater search of the plane’s wreckage in the area of the last radar contact.’
The family of Emiliano Sala have been taken to the site the plane was last known to be as they call in experts for a private search of the Channel
Emiliano Sala’s mother Mercedes (left) and sister Romina (right) arrive back at Guernsey airport after taking a flight to view the area of the English Channel in which the missing footballers plane was last seen
The plane carrying members of Emiliano Sala’s family including mother Mercedes and sister Romina touches down at Guernsey airport
Emiliano Sala told loved ones he was worried the place was falling apart in WhatsApp messages before take-off
He added: ‘This is a family that have come from Argentina with this huge shock out of nowhere and (is) struggling with what had happened, with very, very few answers about an unexplained loss.’
The Piper PA-46 Malibu in which Sala and pilot David Ibbotson were travelling disappeared off the radar on January 21.
It has emerged that football agent Willie McKay arranged for the flight to take Sala to Cardiff but he said he had no involvement in selecting the plane or pilot.
Mr Sala’s family had been in tears when they listened to the final messages he sent via WhatsApp as he took off to start his new life in Wales after the £15million signing.
Before the ‘bumpy’ flight began the pilot needed up to four attempts to take-off from Nantes in Brittany.
David Mearns is in Guernsey helping the family as he is reportedly preparing to undertake a private search
In a final WhatsApp audio message sent to his friends, where the sound of the plane’s engine is heard in the background, Sala said: ‘I was over in Nantes sorting things out.
‘I am now aboard a plane that seems like it is falling to pieces. I’m going to Cardiff now, crazy, and tomorrow we get going. I will train with my new team’.
He added: ‘If you do not have any more news from me in an hour and a half, I don’t know if they need to send someone to find me. I am getting scared!’
Sala was making a round trip in the same plane and when he arrived in France, he reportedly told ex-teammate Nicolas Pallois – who drove him back to Nantes-Atlantiqe airport – that the trip out ‘had been bumpy and he feared his safety for the journey back.’
Cardiff City’s chairman Mehmet Dalman has revealed that their new star, just signed for £15million from FC Nantes, turned down a commercial flight from Paris and booked the private plane himself.
Mr Sala’s girlfriend Victoria’s Secret model Berenice Schkair, 27, blamed the ‘football mafia’ saying on social media she did not believe the incident to be an accident.
Staff and fans of Cardiff City, which signed Sala for a club record of £15 million, are expected to wear yellow daffodils on Tuesday for their match against Arsenal.
The Piper Malibu Sala was travelling on lost contact after leaving Nantes, en route to Cardiff
Emiliano Sala with his sister Romina Sala, brother Dario Sala, and mother Mercedes Taffarel
The plane Mr Sala and his pilot went missing in is pictured. The search for the wreckage continues
Cardiff City: Sala booked his own flight – not us
Missing soccer star Emiliano Sala booked his own ‘risky’ private flight across the English Channel after turning down a commercial flight from Cardiff City, it was revealed today.
The £15million player was offered a flight from bosses at new club Cardiff City but wanted to make his own travel arrangements from his former club in Nantes.
City chairman Mehmet Dalman (pictured) said they were ‘still praying’ for positive news but are devastated after Sala’s plane disappeared on Monday night.
Sala, 28, was due to join his teammates in South Wales yesterday morning for training but never arrived after his 460-mile journey from Nantes to Cardiff Airport.
The plane disappeared over the Channel Islands and search teams have found no sign of a wreckage or survivors.
But Mr Dalman said Sala the flight on the Piper Malibu plane – which experts described as ‘risky’ – was not booked by the club.
Mr Dalman said: ‘We spoke to the player and asked him if he wanted us to make arrangements for his flight which, quite frankly, would have been commercial. He declined and made his own arrangements.
‘I can’t tell you who arranged the flight because I don’t know at this stage – but it certainly wasn’t Cardiff City.’
He revealed that Cardiff’s hard man manager Neil Warnock was ‘in a state of shock’ after hearing the news.
Guernsey’s harbour master Captain David Barker said last week that the decision to stop actively searching had been a ‘difficult’ one, but the chances of survival after such a long period are ‘extremely remote’.
Rescue teams scanned around 1,700 square miles and examined mobile phone data and satellite imagery but found no trace of the aircraft.
Three planes and five helicopters racked up 80 hours’ combined flying time looking for the plane, working alongside two lifeboats and other passing ships.
Mr Mearns said Sala’s mother and sister had travelled to be near to where the plane was last located and that they had spoken to authorities when they arrived in Guernsey.
He said: ‘As you know locally the search was terminated on Thursday and that was what triggered this private search.’
Two local fishing vessels had been looking out for any possible sightings over the weekend while they worked in the same area where the plane was last located, Mr Mearns said.
He added that there may be ‘more investigative technical searches underwater’ at some point in the future.
On Saturday, tributes were paid to the missing pair before a number of FA Cup games.
Despite the national outcry the search was called off on Thursday leading for pleas for it to resume from the 28-year-old player’s family, Argentinian football stars Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona and Sergio Aguero, and the country’s president Mauricio Macri.
Donations from footballers including Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan helped a GoFundMe page raising money for the private search surpass the 300,000 euro (£259,000) target.
An update on the site when the target was reached said Sala’s family wanted to thank people for their generosity.
More than 80,000 people have signed an online petition demanding the search for the missing aircraft continues.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has opened a probe and their investigations will include whether the pilot had the correct licence.
Mr Ibbotson, 59, of Crowle, Lincolnshire, held a private pilot’s licence and passed a medical exam as recently as November, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.
The Civil Aviation Authority said the light aircraft was registered in the US, so fell under American regulations.
US law states private pilots cannot make a profit by carrying passengers.