Argentine soccer player Emiliano Sala was aboard a small passenger plane that disappeared off the coast of Guernsey in the English Channel as he was flying to Wales to join Premier League club Cardiff, authorities said Tuesday.
An official involved in the air search in the Channel Islands said no survivors are expected to be found. The search, which was halted overnight because of strong winds and rough conditions at sea, resumed Tuesday morning with help from maritime authorities in Britain and France.
The light aircraft disappeared from radar Monday night over the English Channel as it made the journey from Nantes, France. The 28-year-old Sala had spent the previous hours saying farewell to teammates of the Nantes soccer team after Cardiff signed him for a club-record fee last week.
“After all this time the weather’s quite cold, the water is very cold out there; I am not expecting anyone to be alive,” Channel Islands Air Search chief officer John Fitzgerald told the Associated Press. “I don’t think the coast guard are either. We just don’t know how it disappeared at the end of yesterday.”
Britain’s Coastguard received an alert at 8:23 p.m. Monday from air traffic control in Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, after it failed to make contact with the Piper PA-46 plane with two people on board, Guernsey police said. The French civil aviation authority confirmed Sala was one of those aboard.
“The search was terminated at [2 a.m. local time], with all search and rescue assets being stood down due to strengthening winds, worsening sea conditions and reducing visibility,” Guernsey police said. “So far over 1,000 square miles have been searched by a total of five aircraft and two lifeboats. There has been no trace of the aircraft. The search is continuing.”
Cardiff signed Sala for a reported $19 million through 2022. He was in Cardiff last week to finalize the transfer, which was awaiting international clearance.
“I can’t wait to start training, meet my new teammates and get down to work,” Sala said in a video posted on the club’s website.
A powerful and direct player, Sala equaled his career-best total of 12 goals — achieved in the last two seasons with Nantes — in 19 league games this season. He is the fifth highest scorer in the French league, one behind Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar, who is the world’s most expensive player.
“He was a polite, nice and adorable player who was loved by everybody,” Nantes President Waldemar Kita told French TV channel CNews.
Nantes was due to play Entente Sannois in the French Cup on Wednesday but the third-tier club said it was postponed until Sunday “following the disappearance of the plane of former player Emiliano Sala.”
Sala, who had not played for Argentina’s national team, has also played in France for Bordeaux.