Sport Soccer

Wednesday 20 February 2019

Air Search chief says Emiliano Sala plane search entering ‘recovery stage’

The missing plane carrying Cardiff striker Sala and a pilot has not yet been found by a search and rescue operation.

The search for Emiliano Sala’s missing plane has ended. (Ben Birchall/PA)
The search for Emiliano Sala’s missing plane has ended. (Ben Birchall/PA)

By Press Association Sport staff

The search for a plane carrying Cardiff striker Emiliano Sala and a pilot is now a recovery operation, according to the Channel Islands Air Search.

Guernsey Police have found “no trace” of the missing plane which was carrying Sala after resuming the search on Wednesday.

The search and rescue operation has targeted an area of 280 square miles around Alderney using multiple aircraft from the Channel Islands, France and the United Kingdom.

Asked if that operation was now more about recovery than rescue, Channel Islands Air Search chief officer John Fitzgerald told Sky Sports News:  “I think it is very much that sort of recovery stage now.”

“I think it’s more trying to work out what went on with the aircraft, trying to find parts of the aircraft, whatever is floating around on the surface.”

In an update published at 1330, Guernsey Police said “the search is ongoing and a decision whether to continue will be taken later today”.

The search, which was halted at 1700 on Tuesday, had begun once again at 0730 on Wednesday morning.

Guernsey Police confirmed they are conducting the search based on four possibilities.

The update read: “We are searching based on four possibilities: 1. They have landed elsewhere but not made contact.

“2. They landed on water, have been picked up by a passing ship but not made contact.

“3. They landed on water and made it into the life raft we know was on board.

“4. The aircraft broke up on contact with the water, leaving them in the sea. Our search area is prioritised on the life raft option. More updates as information becomes available.”

The chances of finding Sala alive are “slim” if the plane landed on water, Guernsey Police had said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

ipanews_c71901d0-1303-433f-ba37-3e1cd2a18a87_embedded240787122
Tributes are being paid outside Cardiff City Football Club after a plane with new signing Emiliano Sala on board went missing over the English Channel on Monday night (Ben Birchall/PA)

Sala was aboard a light aircraft which disappeared from radar en route from Nantes to Cardiff on Monday evening.

The search resumed after a WhatsApp voice message emerged that Sala sent to friends while on the plane bound for Cardiff.

In the recording, the footballer says he is “getting scared” and “aboard a plane that seems like it is falling to pieces” as reported on Ole.com.ar.

According to Guernsey Police, the Piper PA-46 Malibu, a single turbine engine aircraft carrying two people, departed Nantes at 1915 for the Welsh capital and was flying at an altitude of 5,000ft.

On passing Guernsey it “requested descent”, but Jersey air traffic control (ATC) lost contact with the plane while it was flying at 2,300ft.

ipanews_c71901d0-1303-433f-ba37-3e1cd2a18a87_embedded240782381
PA Graphic

After a 15-hour search from rescue teams, which covered an area totalling 1,155 square miles, Guernsey Police revealed that “a number of floating objects” were seen in the water, but they were “unable to confirm whether any of these are from the missing aircraft”.

Cardiff chairman Mehmet Dalman, who is in France, told BBC Radio Wales: “We will not leave a single stone unturned until we have all the facts.”

Asked if Cardiff’s Premier League game at Arsenal next Tuesday would be postponed, Dalman replied: “I would be surprised if there’s a change to the schedule.”

Dalman also confirmed that the club had not booked the plane for the trip, adding that Sala had “made his own arrangements”.

On Tuesday, Cardiff’s executive director Ken Choo expressed his shock and distress at the news.

Sala, 28, was on his way back to Wales after saying goodbye to his Nantes team-mates on Monday night.

Choo described Sala as a “great person” and revealed he had been “so happy” to sign for Cardiff.

Sala had signed a three-and-a-half-year deal with the Welsh club after scoring 12 Ligue 1 goals in 19 appearances this season.

Choo revealed Sala had described joining the Bluebirds as “one of the best days of his life”.

Cardiff have been in contact with Sala’s family as they wait for news.

Fulham manager Claudio Ranieri, who coached Sala at Nantes, added in a statement 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.”

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

Nantes’ Coupe de France clash with third-tier Entente Sannois, scheduled for Wednesday evening, has been postponed until Sunday while their Ligue 1 fixture against St Etienne – originally due to take place on Saturday – has been moved to Wednesday, January 30.

Sala, a native of Santa Fe in Argentina, played at youth level for Club Proyecto Crecer in his home country before being snapped up by French club Bordeaux in 2010.

He was then sent out on a series of loans to Orleans, Niort and Caen and, after failing to make more than a handful of appearances for Bordeaux, joined Nantes in 2015.

It was in Brittany where his career began to flourish.

Sala’s hat-trick against Toulouse in October 2018 was the first by any Nantes player in Ligue 1 since 2006.

Cardiff signed the forward in a deal reportedly worth in the region of £15million, breaking the previous record of £11million paid for Gary Medel in 2013.

Press Association

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport