Sunday 17 February 2019

'Tell us it's a joke... thinking of you' - fears for Premier League footballer on plane that vanished

Emiliano Sala Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP
Emiliano Sala Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP

Ryan Wilkinson

Footballer Emiliano Sala was on board a plane that went missing over the English Channel on Monday night.

The Nantes striker was announced as a new signing for Premier League club Cardiff City on Saturday.

France's civil aviation authority has said the 28-year-old Argentinian striker was on the light aircraft that disappeared from radar on Monday night while apparently flying from Nantes to Cardiff.

It was reported that Sala was driven to the airport by Nantes defender Nicolas Pallois.

Premier League strugglers Cardiff paid a club record fee in the region of £15m for the footballer, one of the leading scorers in the French Ligue 1.

Sala posted a photo to his Instagram and Twitter accounts on Monday afternoon posing with the rest of the Nantes squad.

He captioned the photo: "The final goodbye @FCNantes."

Both FC Nantes and Sala had posted photos to Instagram and Twitter accounts on Monday posing with the rest of the Nantes squad.

Just hours later an air and sea search was launched after the plane disappeared from radar.

Rescue teams were scrambled to waters north of Alderney after the light aircraft vanished on Monday evening, Guernsey Police said.

Police said in a statement that the aircraft left Nantes at 1915 for Cardiff and was flying at 5,000 feet.

The statement added: "The aircraft on passing Guernsey requested descent. Jersey ATC (air traffic control) lost contact whilst it was flying at 2,300 feet."

Cardiff City said this morning that they were "very concerned for the safety of Emiliano Sala".

Chairman Mehmet Dalman said: "We are awaiting confirmation before we can say anything further."

Amine Harit, a Moroccan footballer who played with Sala at Nantes before joining German side FC Schalke in 2017, suggested he was praying for the missing player in a tweet.

He wrote simply "Emi.." followed by a string of praying hands and crying emojis.

Nantes forward Randal Kolo-Muani retweeted Harit's message on his personal account.

Sala's former club, Chamois Niortais FC, has tweeted that the whole team is thinking of the missing player as the search continues.

"Tell us it's a joke... Emi.... All the #TeamChamois thinking of you," tweeted the clubs's official account.

Another of Sala's former clubs, US Orleans, has tweeted their best wishes for the striker and the pilot, both of whom are still missing.

"Sad news this morning, all our thoughts go to the relatives of @EmilianoSala1 and to the relatives of the pilot," the club's official account tweeted.

Guernsey Police said that as of 10:20, there were two helicopters, two planes and one lifeboat searching the area for the missing plane.

The Alderney lifeboat said it launched at 8.50pm on Monday night.

According to the BBC, the Piper Malibu with two people on board lost contact near the Casquets lighthouse around eight miles north-west of Alderney at 8.30pm.

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(PA Graphics)

The plane is thought to have been travelling from Nantes, in Brittany, to Cardiff in south Wales.

The Channel Islands Air Search aircraft was called out to assist the Guernsey Coastguard's search efforts at 8.30pm on Monday night.

The Air Search 1 aircraft, combined with the Alderney and St Peter Port lifeboats and two UK Coast Guard helicopters, searched areas extending north and north-west of Les Casquets reef, a spokeswoman said.

She added: "During the search, reports of sightings of red flares were relayed by Guernsey Coastguard near to the island of Burhou, however nothing of significance was found."

Air Search 1 searched for three hours before returning to Guernsey to refuel and change crew at around midnight.

The aircraft returned to the search area at 8am on Tuesday.

FC Nantes' next Coupe de France match has been postponed following the disappearance of the plane carrying former striker Sala.

The club was due to play L'Entente SSG in a round of 32 game on Wednesday, but the match has now been moved to Sunday January 27.

Announcing the fixture change on its website, L'Entente SSG sent support to FC Nantes and Sala's family.

It said the club was thinking of everyone on the missing plane.

A Guernsey Police spokesman said more than 1,000 square miles had been searched by five aircraft and two lifeboats by 11.45, but added: "There has been no trace of the aircraft. The search is continuing."

Press Association

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