Bottom of the Sea

Italian Fashion Magnate Vittorio Missoni’s Plane Wreck Found

After months of intensive search, Venezuelan authorities have found the wreckage of a small plane that disappeared mysteriously earlier this year, ending a tragic saga for the Italian fashion family.

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty

The plane was discovered on the fifth day of an intense search in deep waters in the Los Roques archipelago using a specialized American search vessel called The Deep Sea. The discovery of the wreckage ends an emotional journey for the Missoni family, who spared no costs in their search for their company chief. They had hoped that the passengers had been kidnapped and were still alive. “A plane cannot vanish in this way, on a short route, without leaving any trace,” Vittorio’s son, Ottavio, 28, told the Italian press in the days after he disappeared. “I remain convinced that the least plausible reason is that they crashed into the water.”

In February, a German tourist found a kite surf bag that was believed to have been on the Missoni plane that had washed up on the island of Curacao, about 125 miles from Los Roques near where the Missoni plane was found, leading authorities to widen their search. The kite surf bag belonged to a passenger from an earlier flight and was sent on the Missoni plane because the plane that left earlier was full. The German tourist who found the bag waited until he returned to Germany several weeks later before contacting the owner of the bag, who then alerted authorities in Venezuela that his bag had been on Missoni’s flight. No other trace of the plane had been found since.

Upon confirmation by the Venezuelan government that the wreckage found on Thursday was indeed that of the plane Missoni and his travel companions were on, the Missoni company issued a statement confirming the worst. “The families thank the Venezuelan government and the Italian government for the effort in having made this search possible. They are confident that the investigation will follow through to the ascertainment of the causes and the responsibility for the accident.”

On January 6, just two days after the plane disappeared, a mysterious text message sent from one of the passengers sparked the belief that the passengers may still be alive. The cellphone belonging to passenger Guido Foresti seemingly sent a message to Foresti’s son signaling that the phone was back in service after being switched off. A day later, calls made from Italy to Foresti’s wife’s phone rang 10 times before automatically transferring through to the phone’s answering service, implying that her phone was also momentarily on or back in cell-tower range. The Italian press then embraced the theory that Missoni had been kidnapped after Vittorio’s sister, Angela, told reporters, “It’s better to be kidnapped than at the bottom of the sea. We hope all four are alive and well. We also hope that the searches go in all directions.”

More than 57 planes have disappeared without a trace in the last 15 years, many tied to alleged drug-running vendettas. According to Hedy Ramirez, secretary of security for Venezuela’s state of Guarico, nearly half of the missing planes were recovered in a sting operation in February 2010. The Missoni family had clung to the hope that their company chief’s plane might have been involved in a similar incident.

On Monday, while searching for the Missoni plane, the American vessel found the wreckage of a similar small plane that disappeared just as mysteriously in 2008. Subaquatic footage of the Missoni wreckage, found a few miles away, and which has not yet been recovered, indicates that the Missoni plane had broken apart on impact. Authorities have not yet confirmed whether the bodies of the four passengers and two crew members have been identified or, if so, what state they were in.

Last month, Vittorio’s father, Ottavio, who founded Missoni in 1953 when he was an Olympic athlete, died at the age of 92, leaving the company without its founder or first heir, who is still listed as the company’s CEO. Vittorio’s siblings Luca and Angela maintain control of the company, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year under a dark cloud.