A painstaking search of Marsascala’s seabed yesterday revealed the dead body of Charles Brignone, 44, lodged against a reef, 24 hours after he had gone missing.

Rescue teams had been scouring Żonqor Point since Sunday afternoon, when Mr Brignone was first presumed missing after failing to return from a snorkelling trip.

The search was halted overnight and resumed at first light yesterday, with both Armed Forces of Malta and Civil Protection Department underwater rescue teams combing the area as friends and family watched from ashore.

Their hunt came to a sad end at 11.15 a.m., when Mr Brignone’s body was found underwater. Onlookers said he was wearing a dark wetsuit, making him harder to spot. Although he was still wearing his weight belt, a buoy originally attached to him was found adrift.

‘He warned his son’

Police are investigating the case, while Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera has ordered an inquiry into his death.

Mr Brignone had taken time off his job as a tile layer to camp in the Żonqor area with his wife and son. It was something the family did together every year, choosing to set up a tent in Żonqor after authorities had made it illegal to camp in Ċirkewwa.

He set off on one of his customary underwater expeditions just before 10 a.m. on Sunday. When he had failed to return four hours later, alarm bells started ringing.

While a rescue team brought Mr Brignone’s body to the surface before transferring it to a waiting search and rescue boat, friends and family stood gripped against promenade barriers, watching their worst fears unfold before their eyes.

Relatives described a kind, jovial man whose two great passions were Brazil’s national football team and the feast of the Immaculate Conception in his Cospicua hometown.

His childhood love for the selecao stretched into his adult years, leading him to name his 15-year-old son after Brazilian football legend Romario and his Tarxien home, Casa Brazil.

He played football himself, as a strapping stopper with a keen defensive eye, with amateur teams in Cospicua and Sta Venera as well as St George’s. And although Mr Brignone lived in Tarxien, he only had eyes for his hometown Cospicua, his best friend David Vella said.

“He was mad about our parish feast. Whenever a volunteer was needed, Charles was the first with his hand up. He carried Our Lord’s statue on Good Friday and he took an active role in organising the feast every year. Cospicua has lost an angel.”

As Mr Vella struggled to keep his composure, he reminisced about growing up together, thinking back to their childhood days of playing football in a communal yard.

“We were like blood brothers. Then he fell in love with, and married, my cousin. He was so proud of Romario, who recently starting rowing for Cospicua’s under-15 regatta team. And to think, his father had warned him not to go snorkelling at Żonqor Point just yesterday...”

Mr Brignone’s cousin, Carmen Bugeja, picked up where he left off. “They were the perfect couple. So bubbly, positive and full of life. It’s so hard to believe this has happened.”

She blinked the tears back. “But at least they’ve found his body. It would have been much worse if we were all just left wondering. It’s not much, but at least it’s some form of closure.”

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