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PHOTO: SUSPECTED SEAT CUSHION FROM EMILIANO SALA MISSING PLANE

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The first photograph of the wreckage believed to be from the plane carrying Cardiff striker Emiliano Sala has emerged. Investigators are working on the theory that the wreckage found could be from the missing plane carrying the footballer.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) was advised by its French counterparts on Monday that part of a cushion was found on a beach near Surtainville on the Cotentin Peninsula.

Cushion of seat suspected to be from the missing plane.

A second cushion was found in the same area later that day.

The AAIB said in a statement: “From a preliminary examination we have concluded that it is likely that the cushions are from the missing aircraft.”

It went on: “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.”

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The AAIB has established a “priority search area” of around four square nautical miles and commissioned a specialist vessel to carry out a survey of the seabed.

It would not confirm the location but said it is where it believes the aircraft entered the sea.

Due to the weather and sea conditions, this is expected to start at the end of this weekend and could take up to three days.

If wreckage is found, a remotely operated vehicle will be used to examine it.

The AAIB said it is aware that a privately-funded search is also being conducted and is “liaising closely with those involved to maximise the chance of locating any wreckage and ensure a safe search operation”.

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Marine scientist David Mearns is assisting the family of footballer Sala, who had just signed for Cardiff City, with this separate search.

He said on Monday it would focus on an area of 25 square nautical miles on the seabed north of Alderney.

The Piper PA-46 Malibu carrying Sala and pilot David Ibbotson disappeared over the English Channel on January 21 after leaving Nantes in France for Cardiff.

It requested to descend then lost contact with Jersey air traffic control.

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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