A body found inside the wreckage of the plane carrying Premier league footballer Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson has been recovered.
On Tuesday evening a mission to carefully remove the body from the Piper aircraft was launched by specially trained MoD salvage officials, and this morning it was announced that they had brought it onto their vessel, the Geo Ocean III, and returned to the UK.
In the pitch black, operating 220ft underwater, and using a remotely controlled submersible, the team also attempted to recover the wreckage of the plane, but poor weather conditions curtailed their efforts and “the difficult decision was taken to bring the overall operation to a close.”
It is not yet publicly known whether it is the pilot or the footballer, whose body has been found, but it is understood that the families of both men have been told.
“Following extensive visual examination of the accident site using the remotely operated vehicle (ROV), it was decided to attempt recovery operations,” said the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.
“In challenging conditions, the AAIB and its specialist contractors successfully recovered the body previously seen amidst the wreckage. The operation was carried out in as dignified a way as possible and the families were kept informed of progress.
“Unfortunately, attempts to recover the aircraft wreckage were unsuccessful before poor weather conditions forced us to return the ROV to the ship. The weather forecast is poor for the foreseeable future and so the difficult decision was taken to bring the overall operation to a close.
“The body is currently being taken to Portland to be passed into the care of the Dorset Coroner.
“Although it was not possible to recover the aircraft, the extensive video record captured by the ROV is expected to provide valuable evidence for our safety investigation.
“We expect our next update to be an interim report, which we intend to publish within one month of the accident occurring.”
At around 8:15pm on 21 January, just an hour into the journey, Mr Ibbotson asked air traffic control to reduce altitude from 5,000 ft to 2,300 feet.
A short time later, the aircraft disappeared from radar screens.
A four day intensive search and rescue mission led by the Guernsey coast guard and the Channel Islands Air Search teams found no trace of the plane or its occupants.
Sala’s family launched a crowdfunding page to raise money to restart the search and received some £330,000. The family hired David Mearns, a “shipwreck hunter”, who found the plane within two hours of searching.
It is now likely that the cause of the crash will never be determined, as long as the plane stays on the seafloor.
The Piper Malibu is largely intact, and speaking earlier this week, Mr Mearns said: “There is a much greater chance that they will get answers if it’s recovered.
“Without the plane, then you’re speculating. They’ll be able to rule things out and rule things in – mechanical failure, and those sorts of things.
“Those are the normal processes for any crash so I think it is imperative that the plane is recovered.
“What is the point of finding it without following through and doing the recovery?”
Yesterday, he reiterated the point, saying that the AAIB has a responsibility to be transparent about what happened in the crash.
“The AAIB has a mission: it is to determine the causes of the accident,” he told French newspaper L’Equipe.
“Many people have made donations, more than 5,000. We think it is necessary for them to know in all transparency what happened.”
Tributes were made to Mr Ibbotson in his home town of Crowle, near Scunthorpe after pictures of the plane he had been piloting showed it on the seafloor.
Among the flowers laid at the base of a tree in the town centre was a note written by Mr Ibbotson’s sister Helen.
“To David, my gentle brother,” it read.
“I have so many memories of you, mine is of you when you were coming home from school, you used to pick me up and carry me home. I will lock these memories in my heart forever.
“All I would like is to see your face, smiling, cheekily, again. I know you’re safe wherever you are. I pray that one day I will see you again, my gentle Big Brother.
“I love you forever and always and will never forget you.”
According to the Daily Mail, his daughter also laid a tribute, with a card reading: “Daddio, Words cannot describe how much I am going to miss you.
“You are the best dad anybody could wish for and I will love you always. I have (word illegible) memories and will pass these on to anybody I meet. All my love Vicki.”
Tributes to the Argentine were also paid on Saturday night, when Cardiff City players wore t-shirts bearing Sala’s face as they warmed up ahead of their match against Bournemouth.
Striker Bobby Reid opened the scoring and dedicated his goal to his teammate by holding up a picture of the footballer to the fans.
Manager Neil Warnock was visibly upset at the final whistle, and said afterwards: “It has been a very emotional 10 days. It just got to me in the end. It can’t be helped, can it?”
Previously, he said that it was “by far the most difficult week in my career. By a mile.”
Vigils were also held in the French city of Nantes, where Sala had spent three years of his career, scoring some 42 goals in 120 games.
On Tuesday evening, they beat Toulouse 2-0 in the French cup, with FC Nantes tweeting: “Opening the scoring in the ninth minute. Obviously,” with a picture of Sala, who wore the number nine shirt.