Investigators say wreckage from a light aircraft carrying Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala has been discovered.
Part of a seat cushion washed up on a beach in north west France on Monday morning. Later that day another section of cushion washed up on the same beach at Surainville on the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy, around 60km from Guernsey.
Investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said: “From a preliminary examination we have concluded that it is likely that the cushions are from the missing aircraft.”
An AAIB spokesman said: “Based on a detailed assessment of the flight path and last known radar position, we have now identified a priority search area of approximately four square nautical miles.
“Through the Ministry of Defence’s Salvage and Marine Operations (SALMO) Project Team, we have commissioned a specialist survey vessel to carry out an underwater survey of the seabed to try to locate and identify possible aircraft wreckage.”
AAIB investigators said their underwater search will last three days.
“Since we opened our safety investigation on Tuesday 23 January, we have been gathering evidence such as flight, aircraft and personnel records, and have been analysing radar data and air traffic tapes. We have been working closely with other international authorities and have kept the families of those involved updated on our progress,” said a spokesman.
The £15m striker, 28, was flying back to the UK after signing for Cardiff City in a record deal on the 21st January when the plane disappeared into the English channel.
The Piper PA-46 Malibu plane was being flown by pilot David Ibbotson from Nantes in France for Cardiff when it requested permission to descend before losing contact with Jersey air traffic control.
Football agent Willie McKay arranged for the flight to take Sala from Nantes to Cardiff but had no involvement in selecting the plane or pilot.
McKay’s son, Mark, was the acting agent for Nantes in a move which made Sala a club-record transfer for Cardiff.
Members of Sala’s family launched a separate search for the wreckage of the plane using funds donated by well-wishers, which is still ongoing.
AAIB investigators said they were “liaising closely with those involved” with the family’s search efforts to “maximise the chance of locating any wreckage and ensure a safe search operation.”