David Mearns: Who is The Shipwreck Hunter that found Sala’s plane?

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The undersea explorer who led the search that located the plane carrying Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala has helped solve numerous major maritime mysteries.

David Mearns, an American marine scientist and oceanographer, told Sky News on Sunday night that his team located the plane’s wreckage that morning, not long after they set off from Guernsey.

The news came nearly two weeks after the Piper Malibu plane carrying the Argentinian footballer, 28, and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, vanished from radars close to the Channel Islands on 21 January.

Mr Mearns, dubbed The Shipwreck Hunter, was leading a crowdfunded private search after the official hunt for the plane was called off three days after the disappearance.

The expert, who lives in West Sussex, normally leads searches for shipwrecks that have been at the bottom of the sea for decades or even centuries.

He claims to have made 21 discoveries.

Using sonar technology and remote-controlled submarines, his expeditions have also set records for finding wrecks at extreme depths.

One of the 60-year-old’s most famous discoveries was the HMS Hood, one of Britain’s greatest battleships which was hit by shells from the German navy’s Bismarck in May 1941, killing 1,415 men.

She was found 3,000 metres deep in the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland in 2001, and Mr Mearns left a memorial plaque with every lost seaman’s name at the site.

In 2008, with his company Blue Water Recoveries, he found the HMAS Sydney, an Australian navy battle cruiser sunk by the Germans off Australia’s west coast in November 1941, killing 700.

He was awarded an honorary Medal of the Order of Australia after also finding the hospital ship Centaur, which was torpedoed off Queensland by a Japanese submarine in 1943.

In 2015, the company found a wreck believed to be the Esmeralda, a ship from Vasco Da Gama’s fleet thought to have sank off the coast of Oman in May 1503.

His first deep water wreck find was part of the criminal investigation into Lucona, a cargo ship blown up in the Indian Ocean in 1977, killing six men, as part of an insurance scam.

After discovering the ship at 4,200m (13,779ft) he found it had been sunk by a time bomb and Austrian businessman Udo Proksch was subsequently convicted in 1991 of murdering six of his crew.

Blue Water Recoveries holds three Guinness World Records, including one for the deepest shipwreck ever found, the German blockade runner Rio Grande, which was discovered at a depth of 5,762m (18,904ft).

For the oceanographer, who is a fellow of the Explorers’ Club, there is one mystery which he is determined to solve – finding Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance, which was crashed by ice and sank off Antarctica in 1914.

“If I could cap it all off with Endurance, I would be a happy, happy man because it is the ultimate shipwreck search in terms of difficulty and challenge,” he told The Times in 2017.

“Harder than Titanic. Finding a deep-water shipwreck in the Weddell Sea when it is covered in ice – you are not going to get any harder than that.”

(c) Sky News 2019: David Mearns: Who is The Shipwreck Hunter that found Sala’s plane?

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