Footballer Emiliano Sala sent fearful message before disappearance
Cardiff player tells his friends he’s worried about the plane’s condition in recording
Rescuers said there was almost no chance of Premier League soccer player Emiliano Sala being found alive after a recording emerged of a fearful voice message he apparently sent from his stricken plane before it disappeared over the English Channel.
Rescue teams reviewed satellite imagery and mobile phone data while four aircraft scoured seas off the island of Alderney, where unidentified debris had been spotted.
However they suspended their search on Wednesday evening after finding no trace of the missing plane following nine hours of hunting.
Cardiff City’s new signing and the aircraft’s pilot, Briton David Ibbotson, had been missing since Monday night and rescuers said chances of finding either of them alive were almost vanishingly slim.
In a chilling voice message sent to friends, which Argentina’s Clarin newspaper said was authenticated by Sala’s father, the player expressed concerns about the single-engine Piper Malibu aircraft in which he was flying.
“I’m in the plane and it looks like it’s going to fall apart,” he said.
“Dad, I’m really scared.”
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 a little more than 2,000ft (600m), John Fitzgerald, chief officer of the Channel Islands Air Search, said.
Police said a decision on whether to resume the search would be taken early on Thursday.
“We’re up there looking for stuff that we don’t expect to find,” said Mr Fitzgerald. “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.”
Police said the chance of finding survivors was slim, with the water temperature in the Channel barely 10 degrees.
“There’s no chance. You’d have to be really, really fit to survive even four or five hours in the water,” Mr Fitzgerald said.
Police said there were three planes and one helicopter involved in the search, but nothing had been seen which could be attributed to the missing plane.
Police had said their search was based on four possibilities.
“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.”
He said the pilot had filed a “VFR” flight plan, which requires aircraft to avoid bad weather, have sight of the ground and stay out of certain air corridors.
The plane had been cruising at 5,000ft (1,525 m) when the pilot requested to descend to a lower altitude on passing Guernsey.
It lost radar contact at 2,300ft, Guernsey police said.
Sala joined struggling Cardiff from FC Nantes last week for a club record fee of about €17million , having scored 12 goals for the French club this season.
Cardiff City fans laid tributes outside their stadium to a player they barely knew but had built high hopes around.
In Nantes, supporters laid rows of yellow flowers and held club scarves aloft in the city centre late on Tuesday.
British media on Wednesday cited Cardiff chairman Dalman as saying the club had not organised Sala’s travel plans.
“He declined and made his own arrangements,” Mr Dalman was quoted as saying. – Reuters