Emiliano Sala: What could the plane wreckage investigation entail?


Wreckage from the aircraft carrying Emiliano Sala has been found at the bottom of the English Channel, although the investigators face significant hurdles in finding out what happened to the Cardiff City footballer and pilot David Ibbotson.

The Piper Malibu N264DB was found in waters north of Guernsey on Sunday – 13 days after it disappeared after leaving Nantes in France for Cardiff.

A privately-funded search operation is yet to announce the exact location of the wreckage, although the floor of the western Channel is generally 200 to 400 feet deep.

Should efforts be made to bring the aircraft to the surface, it could require a crane or flotation devices to raise it.

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According to the Met Office, conditions around the Channel Islands are expected to be rough and windy until later on Monday – with potentially gale-force gusts of up to 45mph and 10ft waves forecast.

The weather and sea state is expected to improve on Tuesday and remain calmer until Wednesday afternoon when more strong winds and heavy seas are expected to return.

The search operation consists of a privately-funded team led by renowned underwater explorer David Mearns, who announced the wreckage had been found by the FPV Morven survey vessel early on Sunday.

The Geo Ocean III, a larger survey ship with Air Accidents Investigation Branch officials on board, then moved in and a remotely-operated vehicle was used to identify the aircraft.

The Geo Ocean III has a crane and a heavy-duty winch at its stern.

Cardiff City v AFC Bournemouth – Premier League – Cardiff City Stadium
Cardiff City v AFC Bournemouth – Premier League – Cardiff City Stadium

Even if investigators are able to analyse the wreckage up-close, the reason for the plane ending up on the bottom of the Channel may not be established.

The light aircraft is unlikely to have been fitted with a flight recorder, according to the UK’s aviation regulator.

So-called black boxes which record flight data and cockpit audio are mandatory in airliners and business jets, and are a vital tool for crash investigators.

But they are not mandatory for light aircraft such as the Piper Malibu, which was registered in the US.