Saturday 16 February 2019

Soccer star sent voice mail: 'Dad, I'm scared'

Tragic: Missing Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala. Photo: Getty Images
Tragic: Missing Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala. Photo: Getty Images

Guy Faulconbridge

Hopes of finding soccer star Emiliano Sala alive were fading last night, as a recording emerged of a fearful voice message he apparently sent from his stricken plane before it disappeared over the English Channel.

Search teams were reviewing satellite imagery and mobile phone data as four aircraft scoured seas off the channel island of Alderney, where unidentified debris was earlier spotted.

Shock: People in Nantes at a tribute to missing Emiliano Sala. Photo: Getty Images
Shock: People in Nantes at a tribute to missing Emiliano Sala. Photo: Getty Images

But with Cardiff City-bound Sala and his pilot already missing for 40 hours, rescuers said chances of finding either of them alive were almost vanishingly slim.

"We're up there looking for stuff that we don't expect to find," John Fitzgerald, chief officer of the Channel Islands Air Search said.

"If there was anything on the surface I think we would have found it on the first night because the weather conditions were really good."

The 28-year-old Argentina-born forward was en route from Nantes in western France to Cardiff for his debut with his Premier League club.

In a chilling voice message sent to friends, which Argentina's 'Clarin' newspaper said was authenticated by Sala's father Horacio, the player expressed concerns about the single-engine Piper Malibu aircraft he was flying in.

"I'm in the plane and it looks like it's going to fall apart," he said. "Dad, I'm really scared."

It was also claimed yesterday that the pilot, Dave Ibbotson (60) from Scunthorpe, aborted three take-offs and had joked with friends that he was a "bit rusty" in the days before.

Cardiff City FC sources last night confirmed Sala had made the flight arrangements with the help of Mark McKay, an intermediary in the deal, because the club had only been able to secure him a route back to Cardiff via Paris and Heathrow.

Britain's Air Accident Investigations Branch said it had opened an investigation into the disappearance of the US registered aircraft.

Air traffic controllers had guided searchers along the path it took before it disappeared from radar screens at just over 2,000 feet (600 metres), Fitzgerald said.

Sala joined struggling Cardiff from FC Nantes last week for a club record fee of about €17m, having scored 12 goals for the French club this season. Both clubs were fearing the worst last night.

Cardiff City fans laid tributes outside their stadium to a player they barely knew but had built high hopes around.

Neil Warnock and his Cardiff City players were described as feeling "absolutely terrible" last night.

Irish Independent

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