Emiliano Sala: ‘No hope’ for missing Cardiff City player

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There is “no hope” of finding missing Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala, a search and rescue officer has said.

The Argentine striker, 28, and a pilot were on board the plane which lost contact off Alderney in the Channel Islands on Monday night.

Chief officer of Channel Islands Air Search, John Fitzgerald, said “even the most fit person” would only last a few hours in the water.

The search for the missing aircraft and its occupants resumed on Wednesday.

Sala reportedly sent a WhatsApp voice message to family, saying he was “so scared”.

Media in Argentina reported he said: “I’m on a plane that looks like it’s going to fall apart.”

As of 11:30 GMT on Wednesday, Guernsey Police said there were three planes and one helicopter in the air as they searched for traces of the Piper Malibu plane.

The force said it was also “reviewing satellite imagery and mobile phone data to see if they can be of any assistance in the search. So far today nothing spotted can be attributed to the missing plane”.

Sala was heading to the Welsh capital after signing for the Bluebirds from French club Nantes in a £15m deal.

A fan lays flowers by the statue of Cardiff City footballer Frederick Charles Keenor outside Cardiff City StadiumImage copyrightBEN BIRCHALL/PA WIRE
Image captionFlowers and tributes have been left outside Cardiff City Stadium

Mr Fitzgerald said: “Sadly, I really don’t think, personally, there is any hope. At this time of year the conditions out there are pretty horrendous if you are actually in the water.”

Guernsey Police is working on four possibilities, including that the “aircraft broke up on contact with the water, leaving them in the sea” and they “landed on water and made it into the life raft we know was on board”.

“Our search area is prioritised on the life raft option,” the force said.

Jersey’s inshore lifeboat is following up on reports of debris in Bouley Bay, which is in the north of the island, and a French military jet will join the search, which is likely to go on until darkness on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Cardiff City chairman Mehmet Dalman said there were no plans to rearrange the Bluebirds’ next Premier League match against Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on 29 January

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Mr Dalman said players and fans were in a “state of shock” and the club had received messages of support from around the world.

The “family of football has a way of coming together at times of tragedy,” he told BBC Radio Wales’ Good Morning Wales.

He also confirmed the club had not booked the plane and Sala had “made his own arrangements”.

“We will not leave a single stone unturned until we have all the facts,” added Mr Dalman.

Nantes fans crying at a vigil for Emiliano Sala
Image captionNantes fans gathered in the city to pay tribute to their former striker

Air and sea crews from the Channel Islands, France and the UK took part in a 15-hour search on Tuesday, but found no trace of the aircraft or its occupants.

Guernsey Police was not able to confirm if floating objects seen belonged to the aircraft and warned that chances of passenger survival were “slim”.

Sala’s father Horacio told Argentine media on Tuesday: “The hours go by and it makes me think of the worst.

“I just want them to find him. The last thing they said is that the communication ended when they crossed the river [English Channel].”

  • Sala – born in Argentina, made in France
  • Sala – timeline of Cardiff City signing
Emiliano Sala holds off PSG defender MarquinhosImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionSala scored 48 goals for Ligue 1 side Nantes after joining in 2015

Overnight, football fans in Nantes laid flowers at a fountain as a tribute to Sala and the plane’s pilot with floral tributes also left at Cardiff City Stadium.

French sports newspaper L’Equipe carried the news of Sala’s plight on its front page on Wednesday with the headline: “The disappearance of a warrior”.

It wrote: “In Nantes, the wait has been unbearable for the supporters of a forward loved for his battling qualities.”

The single-turbine engine plane left Nantes, north-west France, at 19:15 on Monday and had been flying at 5,000ft when it contacted Jersey air traffic control requesting descent.

It lost contact while at 2,300ft and disappeared off radar near the Casquets lighthouse, infamous among mariners as the site of many shipwrecks, eight miles (13km) north-west of Alderney.

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Map showing location of Alderney and lighthouse
Image captionEmiliano Sala was on board a plane bound for Cardiff from Nantes when it disappeared from radar

What plane were they on?

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said a PA-46-310P Malibu aircraft, registered in the United States, had a pilot and one passenger on board.

It has begun an investigation, working with counterparts in the US, France and Argentina.

A 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.”

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