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Emiliano Sala search: Footballer presumed dead as rescuers suspend search

The plane in which Sala was travelling disappeared from radar on Monday night; Cardiff City said they didn’t arrange the flight.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 23rd 2019, 6:35 PM

Nantes v Rennes - Ligue 1 - Stade de la Beaujoire Imago / PA Images Emiliano Sala Imago / PA Images / PA Images

HOPES ALL BUT vanished of finding new Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala alive as British, French and Channel Islands rescuers suspended a second day of searches after the plane he was flying in disappeared at sea.

The Argentine footballer had sent relatives a desperate message shortly before taking off saying the plane looked like it was “going to fall apart”.

Objects have been found in the water, and police on the British island of Guernsey, which sits off the north coast of France, warned there was little chance of finding him and that the footballer was presumed dead.

“A decision about whether to recommence will be taken early Thursday morning,” police said in a statement.

“The water is very cold at the moment, the sea conditions are very rough out there, the wind is very strong,” John Fitzgerald, chief officer of Channel Island Air Search, to AFP.

I think even the most hardened person out there – they’d have to be really tough to survive those conditions for the length of time that they’d been there.

The Guernsey coast guard also named the pilot, the only other person in the plane, as David Ibbotson.

British media said he was a 60-year-old married father of three and lived in Scunthorpe in northern England.

Earlier in the day, police searched the area based on four possible theories:

1. They have landed elsewhere but not made contact.

2. They landed on water, have been picked up by a passing ship but not made contact.3. They landed on water and made it into the life raft we know was on board.

4. The aircraft broke up on contact with the water, leaving them in the sea.

Sala, who signed on Saturday from French club Nantes for a reported fee of €17 million, was flying to Cardiff on a single-engine Piper PA-46 Malibu aircraft.

It has emerged in the Argentine media today that Sala expressed concerns about the plane on the flight, according to an audio message sent to friends and relatives.

“I’m on a plane that looks like it’s going to fall apart, and I’m leaving for Cardiff,” he said in a WhatsApp audio message.

“If in an hour and a half you have no news from me, I don’t know if they will send people to look for me, because they will not find me, you know. Dad, I’m so scared,” he added.

The player’s mother, Mercedes, told Argentine television channel C5N that the plane belonged to Cardiff chairman Mehmet Dalman, but he disputed the claim.

Dalman said the striker made his own arrangements to travel to Cardiff.

“We spoke to the player and asked him if he wanted us to make arrangements for his flight which, quite frankly, would have been commercial,” he is quoted as saying.

He declined and made his own arrangements. I can’t tell you who arranged the flight because I don’t know at this stage – but it certainly wasn’t Cardiff City.

A 15-hour search yesterday covering a 3,000 sq-km area in the Channel spotted “a number of floating objects in the water”, Guernsey police said.

“We have found no signs of those on board. If they did land on the water, the chances of survival are at this stage, unfortunately, slim,” they added.

‘Fearing the worst’ 

One of the rescuers searching for the missing plane yesterday admitted they were “fearing the worst”, thoughts echoed by Sala’s father Horacio.

“Sadly we are fearing the worst… the sea temperature is so cold at the moment,” John Fitzgerald, chief officer of Channel Islands Air Search, told AFP.

A tearful Horacio Sala told the press in Progreso, where the player’s family lives, that as “the hours go by and I don’t know anything, it makes me fear the worst”.

“I don’t know anything. Nobody spoke to me, not a call from the embassy, the club, nobody,” he said. “All I want is for you to find him.”

The player’s mother, Mercedes, claimed in an interview with Argentine television channel C5N that the plane belonged to Cardiff chairman Mehmet Dalman.

Sala, who had been at Nantes since 2015 and had scored 13 goals in all competitions this season, had signed a three-and-a-half-year contract with relegation-threatened Cardiff subject to receiving international clearance.

“We were very shocked upon hearing the news that the plane had gone missing. We expected Emiliano to arrive last night into Cardiff and today was due to be his first day with the team,” the Premier League club’s executive director Ken Choo said in a statement.

“We continue to pray for positive news.”

Dalman also revealed that the club’s manager Neil Warnock was in a “state of shock”.

“Neil is human and he’s affected as much as we all are. We need to get on and do the right things but at the moment there’s a vacuum of information — it’s very unsettling,” he said.

“We’re still praying, we still have prayers and we’ve got to be doing that, we’ve got to make sure.

“Cardiff City will be involved with the investigation. We won’t leave a single stone unturned until we have all the facts.”

Argentine football legend Diego Maradona expressed sadness but said he was hoping the plane had simply gone astray.

“I hope it went to the wrong airport and we find him alive, that’s all,” he said in an audio message on the Instagram account of journalist Martin Arevalo.

“It’s a terrible misfortune when such things happen.”

Cardiff called off a training session planned for Tuesday, and stunned supporters gathered outside the club’s ground to lay flowers and scarves.

With his former teammates in shock, Nantes had their French Cup tie against third-tier side Entente Sannois Saint-Gratien postponed from today until Sunday.

Fans hold vigil

Meanwhile, hundreds of fans of his former team gathered for a vigil in the western French city yesterday evening, placing flowers, scarves and flags on the water fountain and chanting the striker’s name at Place Royale.

“I still have hope, he is a fighter,” said Nantes president Waldemar Kita in a tweet published by the Ligue 1 club.

When he put pen to paper at relegation-threatened Cardiff on Saturday, Sala, who also has Italian nationality, said in a statement: “I’m very happy to be here. It gives me great pleasure and I can’t wait to start training, meet my new team-mates and get down to work.

“For me it feels special (to be the club’s record signing). I have come here wanting to work and to help my team-mates and the club.”

Sala’s last post on Instagram showed him surrounded by players from Nantes. “La ultima ciao (the last goodbye),” he wrote.

Sala began his footballing career at French club Bordeaux, who he joined in 2010, and had loan spells at other French clubs including Orleans, Niort and Caen.

He joined Nantes in 2015 for €1 million and had scored 42 Ligue 1 goals in three and a half seasons at the Stade de la Beaujoire.

© – AFP 2019 

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