Emiliano Sala told his former Nantes teammate he ‘feared for his safety’ before he took off on his doomed flight across the English Channel, it has emerged.
Rescue workers searching for the Premier League footballer have said they are not expecting to find any survivors after his plane vanished last night and Guernsey Police said tonight that the chances of survival were ‘slim’.
The Argentinian striker completed a £15million move to Cardiff City on Saturday before returning to France to bid farewell to his old squad at Ligue 1 side Nantes, posting a poignant photo alongside the words, ‘The last goodbye’.
Sala was making a round trip in the same plane and when he arrived in France, he reportedly told ex-teammate Nicolas Pallois – who drove him back to Nantes-Atlantiqe airport – that the trip out ‘had been bumpy and he feared his safety for the journey back.’
The 28-year-old was due to return to Wales in time for training this morning but the Piper Malibu aircraft he was in lost contact near the Casquets lighthouse off Alderney at 8.30pm last night. Cardiff City chief executive Ken Choo said everyone at the club was ‘very distressed’ and ‘praying for positive news.’
This evening at 5pm with the sun having set, Channel Islands rescue teams called off the search for the day.
An hour previously Guernsey Police tweeted on behalf of the Coastguard: ‘During the course of the 15-hour search, which used multiple air and sea assets from the Channel Islands, UK and France, a number of floating objects have been seen in the water.
Sala posted this photograph to social media last year, and regularly kept fans updated with his training. Friends said he was ‘fulfilling the dream of a lifetime’ by moving to the UK, and ‘could not wait to start playing in Cardiff’
The footballer’s mother, Mercedes Taffarel, said her son was ‘enjoying the best moment of his career so far.’ Sala posted this image of himself with his mother alongside the caption, ‘Thank you mum’
Emiliano Sala and Ken Choo CEO on January 18 at the Cardiff club as the striker got set to sign his three-and-a-half-year contact
Flowers have been left at the base of the statue of Cardiff City footballer Frederick Charles Keenor outside Cardiff City Football Clu
‘We have been unable to confirm whether any of these are from the missing aircraft.
‘We have found no signs of those on board. If they did land on the water, the chances of survival are at this stage, unfortunately, slim.’
Speaking from Argentina, Sala’s father Horacio said he was ‘desperate’ for news, and broke down in tears as he described him as a ‘small town humble boy’, adding: ‘I just can’t believe it.’
In an emotional statement the footballer’s mother, Mercedes Taffarel, said her son was ‘enjoying the best moment of his career so far.’
John Fitzgerald, chief officer of the Channel Islands Air Search, said he was not optimistic about finding Sala and the pilot.
He said: ‘I don’t think the coastguard are either. We just don’t know how it disappeared. It just completely vanished. There was no radio conversation’.
French police, the French civil aviation authority and Nantes Football Club confirmed that Sala was one of the two people on board the Piper Malibu which lost contact near the Casquets lighthouse off Alderney at 8.30pm last night.
The Piper Malibu was flying at some 2,300ft and requested descent as it passed Guernsey but was lost off radar as Jersey air traffic control attempted to make contact.
It went missing as severe weather warnings about snow and ice were issued across France.
John Fitzgerald, chief officer of the Channel Islands Air Search, said he was not optimistic about finding Sala and the pilot. Pictured, the search off Alderney
‘The Last Goodbye’: Emiliano Sala posted this photograph on Instagram yesterday, bidding farewell to his old teammates at Nantes Football Club, after he signed a record £15million contract with Cardiff City FC
Sala, pictured with Bluebirds CEO Ken Choo, became the club’s record signing last week after joining for a fee of £15m. Cardiff released this image of Sala posing with Choo on Saturday as he was given a private tour of their facilities
Police said in a statement that the aircraft left Nantes at 1915 for Cardiff and was flying at 5,000 feet. Police on Guernsey said the search for the plane resumed at 8am on Tuesday
Cardiff City ‘distressed and concerned’ as footballer fails to show up for first day of training
Cardiff City chief executive Ken Choo said everyone at the club was ‘very distressed’ today.
Choo said: ‘We were very shocked upon hearing the news that the plane had gone missing.
‘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.
‘All of us at Cardiff City FC would like to thank our fans, and the entire footballing family for their support at this difficult time.
‘We continue to pray for positive news.’
He added in an in-house TV interview: ‘You could see from his face he is so, so happy to be here and ready to start.
‘Words cannot describe the look on his face when he met us, we walked him around the ground, he was absolutely ready to give it a go.
‘We really feel sad to hear of this news because we met such a great person.’
Cardiff City chairman Mehmet Dalman said today: ‘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 official Nantes FC Twitter account posted a statement and a message to their followers about the missing striker, reading: ‘The management and the whole Club are hopeful and it is the whole family of FC Nantes who prays that @EmilianoSala1 and the other passengers of the plane are finally found safe and sound,’ read a tweet on the official account.
‘FC Nantes joins the call of supporters for the rally tonight from 6.30 pm at the Royal Place in Nantes to drop a yellow tulip at the foot of the fountain,’ they added in a second tweet.
The club later changed its profile picture to a photo of Sala.
Sala’s former teammate, French Guingamp midfielder Lucas Deaux, tweeted: ‘I hope from the bottom of my heart that this is not true.’
So far more than 1,155 square miles have been covered in the search for the missing aircraft.
Mr Fitzgerald said there could be a ‘five per cent’ chance of finding Sala and the pilot. He said: ‘I think with the sea temperatures and the sea conditions the chances of finding anybody alive are reducing all the time.
‘The sea temperatures are very, very cold and just sap the core temperature of anybody in the water very, very quickly.’
Sala was ‘fulfilling the dream of a lifetime’ by moving to the UK, and ‘could not wait to start playing in Cardiff’, according to a friend in France.
When he left the grounds yesterday to head to Cardiff, Nantes FC tweeted: ‘Merci Emi, forever yellow and green.’
After joining Cardiff on Saturday, Sala’s sister Romina proudly shared the news story about his signing, saying: ‘Big brother :D’.
His father Horacio told Argentine channel C5N he was made aware of the news by a friend.
He said: ‘A friend called me and told me what had happened. I’m in Rosario now, I’m working because I’m a truck driver. I didn’t know anything. I just can’t believe it. I’m desperate. I don’t know what could have happened.’
He said striker Emiliano, from the small town of Progreso in Argentina’s northeastern Santa Fe province, had been excited to be moving to Cardiff and playing in the Premier League.
He added: ‘To get the chance to play at a big European club was an amazing step for him and for his town back home. He is a humble small town boy. Everybody is watching the TV and waiting. Hopefully some good news arrives.’
His mother, Mercedes Taffarel, told the same TV station: ‘We don’t have any more news. The only thing I know is that the plane took off and they are searching for it, we don’t know anything yet, they haven’t found anything.
So far more than 1,155 square miles have been covered in the search for the missing aircraft
Mr Fitzgerald said there could be a ‘five per cent’ chance of finding Sala and the pilot. He said: ‘The water really is very cold at the moment so if there were any survivors in the water then it’s so cold you’ve only got about an hour of survival at this time of year.’
The aircraft was travelling from Nantes in western France to Cardiff when it went missing over the English Channel. The RNLI lifeboat can be seen scouring the waters for the plane today
‘We are just here waiting, minute after minute. I spoke to him a few hours before he took off. I don’t know what else to say, I’m so worried.
‘They called me from France to tell me that his plane had gone missing and they were looking for him.
‘We are in constant communication and desperate for good news. He was very happy and content with the transfer. He was enjoying the best moment of his career so far.
‘He would come over often to visit us, and we would go to visit him there. He was alone, he didn’t have any family members with him in France.’
In a statement this evening Guernsey Police said: ‘During the course of the 15-hour search, which used multiple air and sea assets from the Channel Islands, UK and France, a number of floating objects have been seen in the water.
‘We have been unable to confirm whether any of these are from the missing aircraft. We have found no signs of those on board. If they did land on the water, the chances of survival are at this stage, unfortunately, slim. Two planes and a lifeboat are still searching. A decision about an overnight search will be taken shortly.
The Premier League club had signed Sala on a three-and-a-half-year contact on Saturday.
Nantes have announced their French Cup match due to be staged tonight against L’Entente Sannois Saint-Gratien has been postponed in agreement with the French Football Federation.
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.
The official Nantes FC Twitter account posted a statement and a message to their followers about the missing striker before changing its profile picture to a photo of him
Cardiff City announced the signing of the Argentinian striker (pictured with Bluebirds CEO Ken Choo on Saturday) from Nantes in a club record fee of £15million
Sala regularly entertained fans with social media posts from his training sessions, and enjoying time off with his teammates
Emiliano Sala with his sister Romina Sala, brother Dario Sala, and mother Mercedes Taffarel
Sala with his brother and sister. His family remain in Argentina, desperately awaiting updates
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 is immensely close to his family in Argentina, and spoke to his mother who still lives there ‘most days’, but still believed his destiny was in Britain.
Outpouring of grief from football fans
After it was confirmed the striker was on the plane, football fans and players from around the world expressed shock and sadness at the developments.
‘Terribly worrying news that @CardiffCityFC’s new signing, Emiliano Sala was on board the small plane that has gone missing. Hopefully, somehow, they’ll be found and safe,’ Gary Lineker said.
‘Football really doesn’t matter. Praying for @EmilianoSala1 and anyone else onboard,’ added a Bluebirds fan on Twitter.
Another message posted on social media read: ‘I hope you are OK and that this is all a terrible mistake. All of us here in Wales are thinking of you.’
One supporter added: ‘Thoughts and prayers to all who are concerned about loved ones whoever they are.’
‘(I) hope Emiliano Sala is found safe and well,’ added one Leicester fan, while an Arsenal supporter said: ‘This is heartbreaking.’
‘He’s in touch with his family all the time, mainly on WhatsApp,’ said the Brittany-based source.
‘His mum often visits, along with his brother and sister. He’s very loyal to them all, as he is to everybody.
‘The English Premiership was his dream, though. Emiliano is also very religious.
‘He prays a lot. His Catholic faith is very important to him.’
Speaking on TV channel CNEWS, Nantes President Waldemar Kita said today: ‘I think that he came back because he wanted to say goodbye to his friends.
‘He was a polite, kind and adorable boy, loved by everyone. He was very respectful, very courteous.
‘I am thinking about his family and all his friends. For the rest, we don’t know yet.
‘I am still hoping that it is not finished, that he is somewhere, that he will be there. I have just found about this.
‘I was not even aware that he was at Nantes. He is no longer owned by Nantes, he does what he wants.
‘And I say that because I am still hopeful that we will find him.’
Sala was grew up in Progeso, an Argentine town with only 3000 inhabitants in Santa Fe province, in the centre east of the country.
‘As a kid, I watched a lot of the English championship on TV,’ he said in a recent interview in France.
Referring to two retired French players, Sala said: ‘I liked Arsenal, with Thierry Henry and Robert Pires.’
Sala has a younger brother and sister in Argentina. The brother works as an electrician, and the sister works in a care home.
Sala posted this picture on Instagram two days ago – one day after he signed his new deal – alongside the caption, ‘There is a new Sala in town @premierleague. Very happy to sign here @cardiffcityfc !! I know the challenge is big but together we will make it. Impatient to discover the league & the team #BlueBirds’
French Guingamp midfielder Lucas Deaux tweeted: ‘I hope from the bottom of my heart that this is not true.’
Sala had celebrated his 28th birthday in October last year, and posted this photo on Twitter alongside his mother, thanking people for their messages
He left home when he was 15 to become a professional footballer, but is immensely loyal to his roots.
Sala could have been set to make his debut at the Emirates against Arsenal on January 29.
Speaking on Saturday after signing for the Bluebirds, Sala said: ‘I can’t wait to start training, meet my new team-mates and get down to work.’
Also, speaking at the time of the unveiling, CEO & Executive Director, Ken Choo, added: ‘It’s obviously been a long process to secure the services of Emiliano, but I’m very pleased that we’re now in a position whereby we can confirm his signature and officially announce him as a Cardiff City player.
‘We see Emiliano as a significant acquisition and welcome him wholeheartedly to the Capital city of Wales. I’m sure all Cardiff City fans will join me in that and we can look forward to seeing our record signing in a Bluebirds shirt.’
Before switching to Cardiff, Sala was the third highest scorer in Ligue 1 this season with 12 goals, behind only Kylian Mbappe and Nicolas Pepe.
A Piper Malibu light aircraft. A plane of this model is believed to have lost contact at 8.30pm
This graphic shows the lifeboat circling Alderney, in the ongoing search for the aircraft
Sala left Nantes to travel to Cardiff last night. The 28-year-old (pictured left and right in 2014), could have been set to make his debut at the Emirates against Arsenal on January 29
Emiliano Sala and Paris Saint-Germain forward, Kylian M’bappe are pictured during a game in the French Ligue 1
Emiliano Sala: How Premier League clubs were desperate to get their hands on the Argentinian hotshot who was beating Lionel Messi in goal charts
Sala was born in Santa Fe, the Argentine province where Lionel Messi was born, and began his football career for Proyecto Crecer in Córdoba.
The club was directly affiliated with French side FC Girondins de Bordeaux so Sala moved to Europe to sign for the club at the age of 20 and made his debut for them in February 2012 in a cup tie against Lyon.
The 6ft2ins forward then spent the whole 2012-13 season on loan at Championnat National outfit US Orléans, where he scored 19 goals in 37 domestic league appearances.
The following season he spent on loan at Ligue 2 club Chamois Niortais where he scored a further 20 goals in 40 games in all competitions.
After playing the first half of the 2014-15 season for Bordeaux, where his overall record was one goal in 12 appearances, Sala was then loaned to another Ligue 1 club SM Caen for the second half where he scored five goals in 13 appearances.
But it was following a move to Nantes in the summer of 2015 for a reported one million euros where Sala really began to make a name for himself.
He spent four successful seasons at the club where he notched up 48 goals in 130 games – including 12 league goals in 19 appearances this season – to earn himself a move to the Premier League, becoming Cardiff City’s record signing.
His overall career record to date stands at 93 goals in 232 appearances.
Premier League side Cardiff had been keeping close tabs on Sala throughout the current campaign and this season’s record of 12 goals in 19 Ligue 1 games prompted the Bluebirds spend big money on the Argentine.
In November, Sala was outscoring Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi in the goal charts but still remained uncapped by Argentina.
With 10 goals for the season Sala was his country’s most prolific striker ahead of fellow countrymen Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Mauro Icardi.
Manager Neil Warnock personally went to watch Sala in action on December 5 and saw the Premier League new boy score in the 30th minute.
Cardiff were not the only Premier League club tracking Sala as Leicester, Burnley, West Ham and Everton all expressed an interest in the highly coveted marksman.
The Premier League strugglers signed Sala on a three-and-a-half-year contact on Saturday.
Before agreeing to move to Wales, Sala had played his entire professional career in France.
He started his career at Bordeaux where he progressed through the ranks after originally joining their youth team in 2010.
He said at the time: ‘For me it feels special [to be the Club’s record signing]. I have come here wanting to work and to help my teammates and the Club. I can’t wait to get to work straight away and do everything I can.’
Cardiff City said it was ‘seeking clarification’ as to what happened.
Cardiff Airport confirmed the aircraft was due to arrive from Nantes but a spokeswoman said there were no further details.
Police said in a statement that the plane left Nantes at 1915 for Cardiff and was flying at 5,000 feet.
Police on Guernsey said the search for the plane resumed at 8am on Tuesday.
The search had been called off at 2am ‘due to strengthening winds, worsening sea conditions and reducing visibility.
‘The aircraft on passing Guernsey requested descent. Jersey ATC (air traffic control) lost contact whilst it was flying at 2,300 feet.’
Rescue teams were scrambled to waters north of Alderney after the light aircraft vanished on Monday evening, Guernsey Police said.
‘A search and rescue operation is currently underway off the north of Alderney after a light aircraft disappeared from radar several hours ago,’ the force said.
‘Two helicopters alongside the Guernsey and Alderney lifeboats are searching for it.’
HM Coastguard said the incident was not in the UK search and rescue area, although it had sent two helicopters to help.
‘HM Coastguard are currently assisting Guernsey Coastguard with a search for a light aircraft off Alderney in the Channel Islands,’ a spokeswoman said.
‘HM Coastguard helicopters from Solent and Newquay have been helping to search overnight with nothing found.’
The search and rescue operation had to deal with worsening conditions as they scoured the area on Monday night.
‘At that time there were some showers around, but nothing too intense. Wind speeds were not too bad – average speeds were around 15 to 20mph,’ Met Office meteorologist Mark Wilson said.
‘But it has got pretty wet, we’ve seen a band of rain push down from the north-west. That rain set in around 11.30pm to midnight and it’s still raining now.
‘It’s also a bit windier, with gusts around 35mph.’
John Fitzgerald, chief executive of the Channel Islands Air Search, said: ‘We were called out by Guernsey Coastguard at 8.30pm just as the aircraft had dropped off the radar and we were over Alderney by about 9pm,’ he said.
‘We stayed there until midnight before we flew back to Guernsey to change over the crew and refuel.
‘There was about 15 to 20 miles visibility so we could see quite a lot during the first search but the lifeboats found it quite difficult.
Cardiff signed the forward in a deal reportedly worth in the region of £15million, breaking the previous record of £11million paid for Gary Medel in 2013. Sala is pictured here signing his contract on Saturday
The lighthouse on the Casquets rocks, off the coast of Alderney in the Channel Islands
The search had been called off at 2am ‘due to strengthening winds, worsening sea conditions and reducing visibility
Cardiff City’s new record £15million signing Emiliano Sala, pictured on Saturday, was on board a missing private aircraft from Nantes to the Welsh capital
Sala regularly posts photographs of his family on social media, including this one with his mother (left), which he captioned ‘Thank you, mum’. He is pictured with his mother, right, and his electrician brother and sister, who works in a care home
The Casquets from the air, showing the lighthouse on the centre island
The plane lost contact near the Casquets lighthouse off the coast of Alderney
WHAT TYPE OF PLANE IS THE PIPER PA-46 MALIBU?
The plane that went missing over the English Channel is a type of aircraft built by US manufacturer Piper Aircraft.
The Piper PA-46 Malibu has a capacity for one pilot and five passengers, according to the Aerospace Technology website.
The specialist site describes the PA-46 as a ‘light sport aircraft’ and says the maiden flight of the PA-46 prototype took place in November 1979, with the aircraft entering service in 1982.
The aircraft is said to be able to operate on short or unpaved runways, even in the worst weather conditions.
The Piper website says Piper Aircraft is the only general aviation manufacturer to offer a complete line of aircraft.
William T Piper established the Piper Aircraft Corporation in 1937.
‘That area is always quite rough but from 1,000 feet, we can see straight down. It was not that bad but at about 2 or 3 am wintry showers set in and the search was postponed. We went out again at 8am.’
Mr Fitzgerald added that the plane could have glided for around five or six miles without a working engine.
‘I am sure something will be found eventually. The plane was flying at 2,000ft when it dropped off the radar so it could have flown for about five or six miles before touching down.
‘But whether it was a controlled ditching or if it dived in, we just do not know.
‘If it was a controlled ditching, you would expect to find a life-raft but if it was uncontrolled I expect an oil slick and wreckage may be found.’
No decision on which country will investigate the disappearance of the aircraft carrying footballer Emiliano Sala has been announced.
Under global aviation guidelines, initial responsibility for an accident lies with the state where it occurred.
If a crash happens in international waters then the country where an aircraft is registered takes the primary role.
However, states often delegate responsibility if an accident happens far from their territory.
That means the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) is likely to have some role in the inquiry into what happened to the aircraft which went missing over the Channel. An AAIB spokesman said: ‘We are liaising with the relevant authorities.’
The striker often posted photos and videos with his beloved pet dog on his social media accounts
Not just talented on the pitch, Sala also showed off his musical ability as he posed with his guitar
Sala (far right) poses on the beach with his friends as he soaks up the rays in September 2018
Last year, Leicester City’s billionaire owner and four others were killed in a helicopter crash outside the club’s grounds.
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s aircraft was seen spiralling through the sky and into the ground shortly after taking off from the King Power Stadium last October.
Pilot Eric Swaffer and his co-pilot Izabela Lechowicz, who was also his girlfriend, prevented greater loss of life by steering the doomed craft away from crowds of fans.
They died alongside Kaveporn Punpare, an assistant to Mr Srivaddhanaprabha and his colleague Nusara Suknamai, a former beauty queen who worked for the billionaire.