Speaking in an interview with So Foot, Channel Islands Air Search Chief Officer John Fitzgerald gave an update on the ongoing search for the plane that was carrying Emiliano Sala from Nantes to Cardiff last night which disappeared halfway through its journey.
What is the status of the search?
We were called yesterday at 20:30 and the search continued until midnight. Then we took a pause before picking back up until 2am this morning. This morning, we started again at around 08:00.
It is said that the weather was poor last night…
During the first part of the search, the visibility was good, but we had to deal with some fierce rain that fell at around 23:30. As the search progressed, the clouds came down and we had to stop the search, as we could not see anything. The conditions were just too bad for lifeboats.
And this morning, what have the conditions been like?
This morning, the sea was very calm, the sky was very blue, with perfect visibility. We can perfectly see the sky, and the surface of the water, which is very important. The wind is blowing at about 50km’s per hour.
Based on your experience, what are the chances of finding the individuals as survivors after a night in the water?
If they are really underwater, I would tell you there is no chance. I went swimming the other day and I lasted 30 minutes. It is excessively cold in the water, a person submerged in it probably wouldn’t survive for more than an hour unless they have some protection.
In terms of the temperature?
I cannot tell you nonsense. The water in the Channel is around 10 or 11 degrees.
Is there any chance that they will have landed on some land strip?
I find it difficult to think that they could have done anything other than a sea-landing, or at least touching the water somehow. The radars lost their trace north-west of Alderney, 24km from the north of the island of Guernsey. Next, owing to their altitude, they were able to travel an additional 3 or 4 kilometres in the direction in which they were heading. Had they landed somewhere under surveillance, air traffic would have been informed.
Does this sort of thing happen often?
It happens occasionally, but not in this way. Sometimes, there are planes that simply do not have enough fuel and fall in the sea before the coasts, but I do not think that this is what has happened in this case. I do not understand how a plane could disappear from the radars. There must have been a technical or mechanical problem. The plane that they took, the Piper PA-46 Malibu, is a very good plane, but something catastrophic must have happened, there is no reason for this plane to have encountered a problem.
What are the possible scenarios?
It is very difficult to answer this question, because there was no radio contact between the aircraft and any control tower at the time of the accident. They just… disappeared.
Is the searching zone big?
It is quite a big zone, because the tide is strong there. We started looking about 10km’s north of Alderney and now we are looking south of the island. There are two English coastguard helicopters that have been working since this morning, two lifeguard boats and a plane and also the fishing boats that are on site.
What we are looking for first, is the carcass of the plane. If the plane actually crashed in the season, but remained in one piece, they you have to pay attention for traces of oil that rises to the surface. If it blew up in flight – which cannot be ruled out – then we will find debris on the surface… If the plane blew up in flight, they may no longer be on the plane, in which case we may find them, but I just don’t know when. It could be today or in two, three weeks. Sometimes, taken by the currents, we find bodies on the beach in Brighton. It might seem horrible, but that is the way that currents flow.
When you say bodies, are you excluding finding them alive?
Oh yes. Absolutely. Personally, and I can only speak for myself, I do not think that there is any chance that they are still alive at this point.