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Man leading search for Sala's plane says wreckage found

LONDON (AP) — The wreckage of the plane carrying soccer player Emiliano Sala was located on Sunday, two weeks after it disappeared from radar over the English Channel, according to the marine scientist leading a privately funded search for the Argentine's family.

David Mearns, an American-born shipwreck-hunting specialist, made the announcement on Twitter after returning to the island of Guernsey from the search and police informed the families of the two men on board.

Sala and David Ibbotson, the pilot of the small aircraft, are presumed dead by authorities. "This is about the best result we could have hoped for the families," Mearns told British broadcaster Sky News.

Sala was being flown on Jan. 21 from the French city of Nantes to Cardiff after being signed by the Welsh capital's Premier League team. The main search for the plane was called off after three days, but Sala's family launched a fund-raising initiative that led to Mearns bringing his expertise to the mission.

Mearns did a search in conjunction with Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch, which also deployed a vessel for a search of the seabed on Sunday. "Wreckage of the plane carrying Emiliano Sala and piloted by David Ibbotson was located early this morning by the FPV MORVEN," Mearns wrote on a Twitter account, referencing the survey vessel.

"As agreed with the AAIB they moved the GEO OCEAN III over the position we provided them to visually identify the plane by ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle)." Mearns said a statement from the AAIB is expected on Monday.

"Tonight our sole thoughts are with the families and friends of Emiliano and David," Mearns said. Cardiff signed the 28-year-old Sala from Nantes for a club-record fee, reported to be 15 million pounds ($19 million), on Jan. 19. The striker left Cardiff after signing his deal and returned to Nantes to collect his belongings and say goodbye to teammates and staff of the French topflight club. He never made it back to Cardiff to start playing in the Premier League.

At its first home game since the plane disappeared, Cardiff paid tribute to Sala before a 2-0 victory over Bournemouth on Saturday. There was a series of tributes before kickoff, with Sala's photograph appearing on the front cover of the matchday program and the two captains laying floral tributes on the halfway line.

Sala's name, in the colors of his native Argentina, was also spelled out behind one of the goals as supporters held cards aloft. Cardiff's players, who sported daffodils embroidered on their shirts in Sala's honor, celebrated a goal by racing to the home dugout and holding up a blue shirt bearing Sala's photograph.

Program notes, penned by Cardiff owner Vincent Tan and the rest of the Bluebirds' board, said events shook "Cardiff City to its very core" and they were now playing for Sala and Ibbotson.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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