Emiliano Sala, the Argentinian footballer who signed for Cardiff City last Saturday, was on a private plane that disappeared near the Channel Islands on Monday evening, the French civil aviation authority has said.
A small plane – a Piper Malibu – travelling from Nantes to Cardiff went missing near the Casquets lighthouse, with Sala one of two people on board.
A French civil aviation authority spokeswoman said: “Mr Sala was aboard this aircraft. The search for it is continuing and that is all I can say.”
Cardiff’s chairman, Mehmet Dalman, said: “We are very concerned by the latest news that a light aircraft lost contact over the Channel last night. We are awaiting confirmation before we can say anything further. We are very concerned for the safety of Emiliano Sala.”
The Channel Islands air search chief officer, John Fitzgerald, told the Associated Press: “After all this time the weather’s quite cold, the water is very cold out there … I am not expecting anyone to be alive. I don’t think the coastguard are either. We just don’t know how it disappeared at the end of yesterday.”
A search and rescue operation took place in the area on Monday evening amid poor conditions and continued on Tuesday. Guernsey police said planes, helicopters and lifeboats were involved in an operation carried out across more than 1,000sq miles and that visibility, which had been good, was deteriorating in the early afternoon.
“UK authorities have been calling airfields on the south coast to see if it landed there,” police said. “So far we have no confirmation it did. Search continues. Decision at sunset about overnight search.”
Sala completed his move from Nantes to Cardiff on Saturday but returned to France to say goodbye to his teammates. He was set to train with Cardiff for the first time on Tuesday morning and expected to make his debut against Arsenal next week. The 28-year-old, who has scored 12 goals in Ligue 1 this season, joined Cardiff for a club-record fee, believed to be £15m.
Cardiff’s executive director and CEO, Ken Choo, said the club were praying for good news. “We were very shocked upon hearing the news that the plane had gone missing,” he said in a statement on Cardiff’s website. We expected Emiliano to arrive last night into Cardiff and today was due to be his first day with the team.
“Our owner, Tan Sri Vincent Tan, and chairman, Mehmet Dalman, are all very distressed about the situation. We made the decision first thing this morning to call off training with the thoughts of the squad, management staff and the entire club with Emiliano and the pilot.”
Choo added in an interview broadcast on Sky Sports News that everybody at the club was “having an emotional crisis” and that executives from other Premier League clubs had been in touch to offer support.
Choo was with Sala in Cardiff when the transfer was sealed and said the player had described the move as “one of the best days in his life”. Choo added: ““You could see from the face he was so happy to be here and so ready to start … We really feel sad to hear of this news because we have met such a great person.”
Guernsey Coastguard received an alert at 8.23pm on Monday that a light aircraft had gone missing and searches were carried out until 2am, at which point conditions forced a halt. The search resumed at 8am.
Police said the aircraft had requested descent on passing Guernsey but that Jersey air traffic control lost contact with it when the plane was at 2,300ft.
HM Coastguard has said that the disappearance was not in its search and rescue area but that it had sent two helicopters to assist Guernsey Coastguard.
Sala played youth football in Argentina, latterly at Club Proyecto Crecer, but has spent his whole senior career in France. He joined Bordeaux in 2012 and went on loan to three clubs before signing for Nantes in 2015.
Nantes’ Coupe de France match against Entente Sannois Saint Gratien, due to be played on Wednesday, has been postponed, with a new date set for Sunday.
One of Sala’s former clubs, Chamois Niortais, tweeted: “Tell us it’s a joke… Emi…. All the TeamChamois thinking of you.”