Hopes fade for football star as plane debris found
A footballer unveiled just days ago as a £15m Premier League signing was feared dead last night in a plane crash after wreckage believed to belong to his aircraft was found in the English Channel.
Emiliano Sala (28), Cardiff City's record-breaking new striker, is believed to have been killed with his pilot after a light aircraft chartered by the club encountered trouble after taking off in France on Monday night.
The Argentinian had flown out to France from Wales on a round trip on Monday to bid farewell to his former team-mates at Ligue 1 team Nantes.
The Piper Malibu lost contact on the return leg near the Casquets lighthouse off Alderney at 8.30pm.
Five aircraft and two lifeboats continued scouring more than 1,100 square miles of the English Channel and, last night, rescue sources confirmed plane parts and seats were seen in the water.
Reports in France claimed he had told Nicolas Pallois, a team-mate who drove him to the airport, that the trip "had been bumpy and he feared for his safety for the journey back".
However, Sala looked happy hours before take-off, posting pictures with his former team-mates. On one he poignantly wrote "the last goodbye".
Ken Choo, Cardiff City's chief executive, said everyone at the club was "very distressed" and "praying for positive news".
Speaking from Argentina, Sala's father, Horacio, said he was desperate for news. He broke down in tears as he described him as a "small town humble boy", adding: "I just can't believe it."
Meanwhile, leading sports lawyers said the financial situation could become complex for Cardiff and Nantes in the weeks ahead. Richard Santy, of Mills & Reeve, said "usually clubs would have insurance in place to cover this sort of situation". However, Alex Haffner, a partner at Fladgate LLP, said: "It's unprecedented in terms of the timing."
Both lawyers agreed Cardiff may look to renegotiate with Nantes if they agreed to pay the £15m fee in instalments.
The Piper Malibu was flying at 2,300ft and requested descent as it passed Guernsey but vanished from the radar as Jersey air traffic control attempted to make contact.
It went missing as severe weather warnings about snow and ice were issued across France.
John Fitzgerald, chief officer of Channel Islands Air Search, said: "We just don't know how it disappeared. It just completely vanished. There was no radio conversation... The sea temperatures are very, very cold and just sap the core temperature of anybody in the water very, very quickly."