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Family of pilot David Ibbotson determined to find his body

The Guardian logo The Guardian 11/02/2019 Matthew Weaver
David Ibbotson © Go Fund Me David Ibbotson

The family of David Ibbotson, the missing pilot of the plane carrying the footballer Emiliano Sala, have spoken of their determination to find and recover the body of a man they described as “our rock”.

In her first broadcast interview his wife, Nora Ibbotson, said: “We just know we can’t leave him out there on his own, until we have tried to do everything we can.”

More than £140,000 has been raised by a campaign to restart the search for Ibbotson, including donations from Gary Lineker and Kylian Mbappé.

Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Nora said: “This is why we’ve done the appeal, just for some help.”

Image shows plane wreckage on the seafloor © AP Image shows plane wreckage on the seafloor

Sala’s body was recovered in a privately funded search that was launched once the initial search was called off three days after the men and their plane, which had been travelling from Nantes in France to Cardiff, went missing.

Related: Who is the Shipwreck Hunter who found Sala's plane? (Sky)

Nora said she wanted rescuers to send down a remote-controlled submarine to the wreck of the plane to search again for her 59-year-old husband. She said: “Just to be able to go down and just have a last look. A proper look. I know the conditions aren’t brilliant. I know it is such a dangerous sea, but just so that we know ourselves that we had that last [look].”

If a body was found it would cost up to £300,000 to recover. Nora said being reunited with her husband’s body would allow “the family unit to be back – so we can go and visit him. And just to know that he’s there”.

Asked when she had lost all hope, she said: “We are still holding on a little bit. Obviously we do know he’s gone, but we want him back. Until we know that we won’t be able to get him back, that will be when we can say he’s gone.”

Nora paid tribute to her missing husband: “He’s been a brilliant husband, he’s supported us all, he was our support he was our rock.”

Sitting alongside her daughter Danielle said the search for her father “might take a long time, but I don’t want this just to be it”.

She added: “He was amazing. I’m so lucky to have him as a dad. He called me little legs because I’m only small, that was my nickname. He was the type of dad that he wouldn’t just give you a hug he’d lift you up off the floor, because he just said he loved us all so much.”

A ship carrying the body of Emiliano Sala arrives at Dorset after being recovered from the seafloor © PA A ship carrying the body of Emiliano Sala arrives at Dorset after being recovered from the seafloor

She also said she had struggled to accept that had her father had been killed in the crash 21 January.

When the police informed her that plane was missing she repeatedly tried to call her father on his mobile. “I was sat there ringing my dad, you know, as if it’s not my dad.”

Before the flight Ibbotson had messaged a friend say he was “a bit rusty” with the instrument landing system on the plane. His wife insisted he was an experienced pilot and that the remark was a joke.

She said: “It’s like when you go on holiday, two or three weeks and you come back and you get in our car because you haven’t driven for a few days, it’s that. We’ve all done it, I have, that was just Dave.”

Asked if he was allowed to carry passengers in the plane she said: “He had a private licence so he was able to carry passengers, other than that, with the investigation going on, I really can’t say any more.”

She added: “It wasn’t his work; he was a gas engineer, but his passion for flying, that was Dave.”

She also revealed that the Ibbotson family had had no contact with Sala’s Argentinian family.

She said: “We haven’t tried to contact them, because we know that they are grieving, same as us. We’ve always thought about them in our prayers. I’ve always said as a mother I couldn’t imagine what she’s going through. I’ll just say my deepest condolences to them, but without that funding they did we wouldn’t have had the plane.”

Nora also recalled her last conversation with her husband: “I rung him in the afternoon at 2.30pm and he was making his way back to the aircraft … And he says he’ll be back late on, so I just said right I’ll leave the key out the door and I’ll leave the porch light on.”

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