Two seat cushions have been found which are likely to have come from the plane carrying missing Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala, investigators said.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) confirmed in a statement that French authorities had located parts of two seat cushions on a beach in Surtainville, north western France.
“On the morning of Monday, January 28, we were advised by the Bureau d’Enquetes & d’Analyses, the French safety investigation authority, that part of a seat cushion had been found on a beach near Surtainville on the Cotentin Peninsula,” the AAIB said.
“A second cushion was found in the same area later that day,” it added. “From a preliminary examination, we have concluded that it is likely that the cushions are from the missing aircraft.”
Sala, 28, was flying from France to Wales, after signing for Cardiff City in a reported £15m transfer from FC Nantes. He remains missing alongside the British pilot David Ibbotson, 59, from Lincolnshire.
The Piper Malibu plane disappeared from radar on 21 January shortly after requesting a descent to 2,800 feet just north west of Alderney in the Channel Islands.
The AAIB added: “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.”
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.
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.
Officials said they were aware that a privately-funded search was also being conducted. The private search has been paid for by Sala’s family following a fundraising effort. They have said they believe the footballer could be still alive.
The AAIB said it was “liaising closely with those involved to maximise the chance of locating any wreckage and ensure a safe search operation”.
With additional reporting by George Bowden.