Emiliano Sala: Search for missing footballer's plane postponed

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The search for a missing plane carrying a pilot and a Premier League footballer has been called off for the night.

Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson were in the plane that vanished from radar on Monday.

Guernsey Police said an “intensive” nine-hour search found no trace of the missing aircraft. A decision on whether to resume will be taken on Thursday.

A rescuer said there was “no hope” of finding the 28-year-old Argentine or pilot from Crowle, Lincolnshire, alive.

Channel Islands Air Search chief officer John Fitzgerald said “even the most fit person” would only survive for a few hours in the water.

Guernsey Police said the search, involving “multiple aircraft and one lifeboat”, was halted as the daylight had faded.

As part of rescue efforts, police have been looking at satellite images and mobile phone data.

Sala reportedly sent a WhatsApp voice message before the flight. Sounding conversational and jokey, he said he was “so scared”.

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

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

The single-engine plane left Nantes, north-west France, at 19:15 on Monday and had been flying at 5,000ft (1,500m) over the Channel Islands when it contacted Jersey air traffic control requesting descent.

It lost contact while at 2,300ft (700m) and disappeared off radar near the Casquets lighthouse, infamous among mariners as the site of many shipwrecks, eight miles (13km) north-west of Alderney.

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.”

Humberside Police said specially trained officers were supporting Mr Ibbotson’s family, adding they had “asked for privacy at this difficult time”.

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 added.

Jersey’s inshore lifeboat followed up on reports of debris in Bouley Bay, which is in the north of the island, but failed to find anything.

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.

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”.

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, Sala or Mr Ibbotson.

Meanwhile 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].”

On Tuesday evening, football fans in Nantes laid flowers at a fountain as a tribute to Sala and Mr Ibbotson, with floral tributes also left at Cardiff City Stadium.

Sala’s former club Nantes has changed its Twitter profile picture to a photo of the striker and tweeted: “Où que tu sois, on pense à toi” which translates to: “Wherever you are, we’re thinking of you.”

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 when it vanished.

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.”

The plane is owned by Southern Aircraft Consultancy Inc Trustee, in Bungay, Suffolk, according to the US Federal Aviation Administration database.

The company told the BBC it was the trustee of the plane but not its ultimate owner.

Julian Bray, an aviation expert and journalist, said the aircraft was a single engine, six-seater plane.

He said he had listened to the WhatsApp recording by Sala and “was particularly listening to the engine sounds and I must admit it sounded slightly ropey – it didn’t sound as smooth as it should be”.

Mr Bray said the request to descend by the pilot could have been due to an issue with pressure onboard the aircraft, which did not deviate from its course.

He added: “They’re [the plane] equipped with life jackets, but I’m not sure whether this one had life rafts on.

“Normally in light aircraft you wouldn’t carry a life raft, but you will have floatation jackets.”

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