Cardiff City’s record new signing, Emiliano Sala, is missing presumed dead after a light aircraft he was travelling in disappeared over the English Channel, with a search to find the plane being called off on Tuesday.
The Argentine striker, signed on Saturday from French club Nantes for a reported fee of 17 million euros ($27.3 million), was flying to Cardiff aboard the plane that disappeared from radars around 20 kilometres north of the island of Guernsey on Monday night.
The search continued throughout Tuesday before being suspended for the night, with police on the British island warning that survival chances were “slim” if the aircraft landed on water.
A 15-hour search covering a 3,000 square-kilometre area in the Channel spotted “a number of floating objects in the water”, Guernsey police added.
“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.”
French civil aviation authorities had confirmed that 28-year-old Sala “was on board the plane”. It is thought there was one other passenger on the aircraft.
Police on Guernsey, which sits just off the north coast of France, said the pilot had requested to lower his altitude shortly before air traffic control in neighbouring Jersey lost contact with the plane.
Haunting final message
Just hours before the tragedy, Sala took to social media to say his ‘last goodbye’ to his former teammates.
The 28-year-old farewelled his club and collected some belongings before making his switch to Wales.
He posed for a group photo and posted the pic to his Instagram account, writing “La Ultima Ciao” – “The last goodbye”.
One of the rescuers searching for the missing plane earlier admitted they were “fearing the worst”.
“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.
The player’s mother, Mercedes, claimed in an interview with Argentine television channel C5N that the plane belonged to the Cardiff chairman, Mehmet Dalman.
“The last time I spoke to Emi was before take-off and he was very happy in the best time of his career,” she added.
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.”
Cardiff called off a training session planned for Tuesday morning, 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 Wednesday until Sunday.