Wreckage from missing plane of footballer Emiliano Sala found

Wreckage from the plane carrying Argentine football star Emiliano Sala that disappeared over the English Channel almost two weeks ago has been found, according a marine scientist leading a search team.

“Wreckage of the plane carrying Emiliano Sala and piloted by David Ibbotson was located early this morning by the FPV MORVEN. As agreed with the AAIB they moved the GEO OCEAN III over the position we provided them to visually identify the plane by ROV. #EmilianoSala,” David Mearns wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

“The families of Emiliano Sala and David Ibbotson have been notified by Police,” he wrote. “Tonight our sole thoughts are with the families and friends of Emiliano and David.”

A spokeswoman for UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) also confirmed to CNN in a phone interview that the wreckage was found.

The privately funded search started Sunday. Mearns, the director of deep-sea operation company Blue Water Recoveries, led the search team on board the vessel FPV Morven. Mearns, who claims to have located 24 shipwrecks in his career, was working on behalf of the Sala family.

The group was also working in close coordination with the AAIB, which on Sunday began a three-day underwater search of an area four square nautical miles off the island of Guernsey.

Sala, 28, and Ibbotson, 59, were flying in a single turbine Piper Malibu plane from Nantes, in northern France, to Cardiff, in Wales, when it disappeared from radar just near the Channel Islands on January 21.

Star striker Sala had recently signed with English Premier League club Cardiff City for a reported £15 million ($19.3 million) from French club Nantes. He was headed to his new club after saying farewell to his former teammates in France.

The official search operation was called off on January 24 after Guernsey’s harbour master, Captain David Barker, said “the chances of survival at this stage are extremely remote.”

The decision prompted tearful pleas from Sala’s family who urged officials to “use all means possible” to find out what happened to the plane that had requested descent on passing Guernsey, but disappeared from radar at about 2,300 feet.

A few days later, seat cushions believed to be from the missing plane were found on a beach near Surtainville, on the northwest coast of France.

The private search mission was financed through a crowdfunding campaign. Among those donating were French World Cup star Kylian Mbappe, who contributed $34,000.

Last week players and fans in Nantes paid tribute to the missing footballer in an emotional match against Saint-Etienne that reduced Nantes manager Vahid Halilhodzic to tears.

Play was briefly halted in the ninth minute — Sala’s squad number — and many in the stands waved Argentina flags.