David Ibbotson, the pilot who is missing along with Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala after the plane they were travelling in went missing, said in the days before the flight that he was “rusty” after flying to France at the weekend.
Mr Ibbotson, 60, wrote on his Facebook page on Monday that he had felt a “bit rusty” on the flight over to Nantes, and that he had struggled to get to grips with the Instrument Landing System (ILS) on the Piper PA-46 Malibu aircraft that disappeared on the return flight to Cardiff on Monday night.
Having tagged himself at Nantes Airport, where he and Sala departed from, Mr Ibbotson wrote in a comment to a friend: “Was not to (sic) bad when I got there but I’m a bit rusty with the ILS, in France now, I’ll pop and see you when I get back, your turn to buy coffee.”
The friend responded ‘rusty with the ILS?! I can’t believe that!” before Mr Ibbotson commented again to say: “You wanna bet, a little on the high side hehe, better than on the low side.”
Search parties resumed looking for the pair on Thursday after three days of unsuccessful attempts to find any trace of the aircraft, which disappeared from radar at around 8:20pm on Monday night while flying at 2,300ft.
Mr Ibbotson had “requested descent” from 5,000ft as they flew over Guernsey, before the aircraft disappeared from the Jersey Air Traffic Control radar around 15km north of the Channel Island, just off the coast of Alderney.
Hopes of finding the pair alive faded on Wednesday as nine hours of searching the waters around the islands turned up nothing that could be confirmed from the aircraft, and after a meeting on Thursday morning a decision was taken to continue search efforts with a primary focus on the coastal areas surrounding Burhou, the Casquets, Alderney, Jersey, Sark and the north coast of the Cherbourg Peninsula.
However, Guernsey harbour master Captain David Barker admitted the chances of finding either man alive have “faded to almost zero”.
He added: “As the Channel Islands air searcher said, the survival times for someone in the water is very low, we estimated that at around three hours, the time of survival in a life raft would be longer.
“No-one could be more concerned for these two men’s safety than myself… You can be sure that my focus is still on trying to deal with any hope of survival.”
A multi-nation investigation has been launched into what happened, with the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) looking into the loss of the aircraft while working closely with authorities in the US, France and Argentina.
An AAIB spokesman said: “We will be gathering all the available evidence to conduct a thorough investigation.
“However, if the aircraft is not found it is likely to limit the scope of the investigation.”