Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Channel police call off search for missing Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala

Cardiff's record signing Sala and pilot David Ibbotson were aboard a plane that disappeared from radar en route from Nantes to Cardiff on Monday

Police on Thursday ended their search for Premier League player Emiliano Sala, saying the chances of finding the Argentine alive three days after his plane went missing over the Channel were "extremely remote".

The light aircraft transporting the 28-year-old striker, who signed for Cardiff City at the weekend, disappeared from radar around 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Guernsey on Monday night.

The tiny island sits off the northern coast of France.

"We reviewed all the information available to us, as well as knowing what emergency equipment was on board, and have taken the difficult decision to end the search," Guernsey said in a statement.

"The chances of survival at this stage are extremely remote."

The police said they have informed the next of kin of Sala and the missing pilot, who has been identified as David Ibbotson.

The police said teams from the Channel Islands, the United Kingdom and France had searched an area of approximately 4,400 square kilometres, "with a significant amount of this searched more than once".

Cardiff City's new signing Sala and Ibbotson have been missing since Monday night and rescuers have said chances of finding either of them alive were "slim".

The Argentine forward, 28, was en route from Nantes in western France to make his debut for Welsh team Cardiff City.

"We are commencing a coastal search using the Channel Islands Air Search plane of Burhou, the Casquets, Alderney, the north coast of the Cherbourg Peninsula, north coast of Jersey and then back over Sark," Guernsey police had earlier tweeted.

Cardiff chairman Mehmet Dalman conceded late Wednesday "it doesn't look good" for Sala after a search-and-rescue operation to find the missing player was suspended.

Dalman, who described Sala's disappearance as a "tragic accident", said the Piper PA-46 Malibu plane was not organised by the club.

He also said the sister of the £15 million (Dh71.35m) Argentina striker was on her way to south Wales.

Graphic: Ramon Penas / The National
Graphic: Ramon Penas / The National

"We continue to collect data to try to understand what happened from this end. Everything points towards a tragic accident, it really does," Dalman told Sky Sports News HQ.

"We will continue to hope and pray. But we also have to be realistic, it doesn't look good at this very moment.

"It's quite evident that Cardiff took the responsibility to offer Sala arrangements, which obviously would have been commercial flights, which would have meant a train from Nantes to Paris then Paris to Heathrow and then driving up [to Cardiff].

"And the player's reaction to that was to make his own arrangements which was much quicker.

"Whether he did it from Nantes's point of view or with his agent, we are trying to extricate that. I think we will reach a conclusion to that in two days."

Football agent Mark McKay said he was involved in Sala's travel arrangements, telling Sky Sports News: "I can confirm that when Emiliano made myself and his agent Meissa N'Diaye aware that he wished to travel back to Nantes following his medical and signing on Friday, I began to look into arranging a private flight to take him to Nantes on Saturday morning.

"That evening, it was confirmed a plane was available to fly Emiliano on Saturday which could remain in Nantes until he was due to return to Cardiff.

"I have been in contact with officials from Cardiff City FC and the player's agent over these difficult past few days and will continue to do so."

Humberside Police confirmed on Wednesday evening that Ibbotson, from Crowle, near Scunthorpe, was the pilot.

Searches for the missing plane, which were suspended due to fading light, had resumed after the emergence of a WhatsApp voice message from Sala.

In the recording, he says he is "getting scared" as he is "aboard a plane that seems like it is falling to pieces".

The rescue operation has targeted an area of 3,000 square kilometre area around Alderney using multiple aircraft from the Channel Islands, France and the United Kingdom.

Police, who said rescue workers were prioritising the possibility that the plane landed on water and its life raft was used, confirmed on Wednesday evening the search had been temporarily halted.

"After an intensive search using multiple aircraft and one lifeboat over the last nine hours, we have found no trace of the missing plane," read a Guernsey Police statement.

"With the light now fading, the search will shortly be suspended for the night. A decision about whether to recommence will be taken early tomorrow morning."

John Fitzgerald, Channel Islands Air Search chief officer, said it was unlikely Sala or Ibbotson would be found alive.

I think it is very much that sort of recovery stage now.

John Fitzgerald, Channel Islands Air Search chief officer

Asked if that operation was now more about recovery than rescue, he told Sky Sports News: "I think it is very much that sort of recovery stage

According to Guernsey Police, the single-turbine-engine aircraft departed Nantes at 7.15pm on Monday for the Welsh capital and was flying at an altitude of 1,524 metres.

On passing Guernsey it "requested descent", but Jersey air traffic control lost contact with the plane while it was flying at 701 metres.

Cardiff's chief executive Ken Choo described Sala as a "great person" and revealed the player had described joining the Premier League club as "one of the best days of his life".

Fulham manager Claudio Ranieri, who coached Sala at Nantes, said on Twitter: "I was devastated to hear the news. Emiliano is a wonderful character.

"He's a fighter. The world of football will be united in wishing for some positive news. I pray for Emiliano and his family."

Updated: January 24, 2019 08:00 PM

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