Search For Missing Plane Has Ended

The search for a plane carrying Cardiff City's new signing Emiliano Sala has been called off.

He was on board a light aircraft which went missing over the English Channel on Monday - Guernsey police says the chances of survival are extremely remote.

From Guernsey Harbour Master Captain David Barker: "My team have just met to review the search and rescue operation which has been underway since the plane disappeared on Monday night.

"Despite the best efforts of air and search assets from the Channel Islands, UK and France, which has covered an area of approximately 1,700sq. miles - with a significant amount of this searched more than once - and having examined mobile phone data and satellite imagery, we have been unable to find any trace of the aircraft, the pilot or the passenger.

"We reviewed all the info available to us, as well as knowing what emergency equipment was on board, and have taken the difficult decision to end the search.

"The chances of survival at this stage are extremely remote.

"Next of kin have been informed of this development, and my thoughts go out to the family of the pilot at this difficult time."

He added his thanks to all those involved in the search and said although everyone on the final aircraft has returned to the UK, the incident remains open.

Vessels and aircraft in the area will be asked to keep a lookout for any trace of the plane, a request which Mr Barker said would "continue indefinitely".

Sala was being flown to Cardiff by pilot Dave Ibbotson, after a record transfer signing for the club.

Mr Ibbotson had checked himself into Nantes airport in France when he arrived to collect the player and admitted he was "a bit rusty".

The pilot, from Crowle, near Scunthorpe, tagged himself at the French city's airport on Saturday before replying to comments the following day, in which he said he was "a bit rusty with the ILS (instrument landing system)".

When a friend questioned whether that was really the case, Mr Ibbotson replied: "You wanna bet, a little on the high side hehe, better than on the low side."

Police said on Wednesday it had become a recovery operation rather than a rescue mission.

In a statement on Twitter on Thursday morning, Guernsey Police said officers were searching the north coasts of Jersey and the Cherbourg Peninsula, as well as the small islands of Burhou, the Casquets, Alderney and Sark.

Cardiff City chairman Mehmet Dalman admitted that it "does not look good" for Sala, who signed for a club-record £15m last week and was on his way to Wales when the plane disappeared.

He told Sky Sports News: "We continue to collect data to try to understand what happened from this end. Everything points towards a tragic accident, it really does.

"We will continue to hope and pray. But we also have to be realistic, it does not look good at this very moment."

He said the Piper PA-46 Malibu plane was not organised by the club, with Sala making his own travel arrangements via football agent Mark McKay.

The Argentine striker reportedly voiced fears about the safety of the plane in a WhatsApp audio message he sent to friends while on board.

In the message, a voice is heard saying: "I am here in the plane that seems is about to fall to pieces. I'm scared."

Mr McKay told Sky Sports News: "I can confirm that when Emiliano made myself and his agent Meissa N'Diaye aware that he wished to travel back to Nantes following his medical and signing on Friday, I began to look into arranging a private flight to take him to Nantes on Saturday morning.

"That evening, it was confirmed a plane was available to fly Emiliano on Saturday which could remain in Nantes until he was due to return to Cardiff.

"I have been in contact with officials from Cardiff and the player's agent over these difficult past few days and will continue to do so."

Mr Mckay added that the plane was "not owned in any way or part by either myself or any member of my family".

Nantes supporters have held vigils for Sala at his old home stadium in recent days, with his prolific goal-scoring record having made him a firm favourite on the terraces at the Ligue 1 side.

His former teammates are due to travel to Cardiff later on Thursday.

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