Emiliano Sala told his close friends he was ‘scared’ on ‘a plane that seems like it is falling to pieces’ in a voice note sent from the light aircraft which disappeared over the Channel on Monday night.
In the recording the Argentine footballer sounds calm but exhausted, as he tells friends they may need to ‘send someone to find me’ over the low roar of the plane’s single propeller.
Sala and his pilot last made contact from their Piper FA-46 Malibu just off Alderney at 8.30pm on Monday. On Tuesday coastguard helicopters and lifeboats scoured 1,100 square miles of sea before halting the search at nightfall.
They found nothing but debris and Guernsey Police said the pair’s chances of survival if they ditched in the icy waters were ‘slim’. They warned they are not expecting to find survivors.
In the Whatsapp audio note, Sala said in Spanish: ‘Hey guys, how is it going? Brother, I am really tired now. I was over in Nantes sorting things out, doing this, doing that.
‘I am now aboard a plan that seems like it is falling to pieces. I’m going to Cardiff now, crazy, and tomorrow we get going. I will train with my new team tomorrow.’
In a separate note sent a little later, he said: ‘How are you guys, all good?
‘If you do not have any more news from in an hour and a half, I don’t know if they need to send someone to find me. I am getting scared!’
Earlier it emerged he told his former Nantes teammate he ‘feared for his safety’ before he took off on his doomed flight across the English Channel.
The Argentinian striker completed a £15 million move to Cardiff City on Saturday. He returned to bid farewell to his old squad at Ligue 1 side Nantes, posting a poignant photo in which his former teammates sport their club’s blue strip, and Sala is wearing a hoodie with the logo: ‘Be good, be nice.’
His Instagram post of the photo bore the caption: ‘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.’
A French source close to the player said the six-seater plane only got airborne for the return trip after at least three failed attempts to take off from Nantes.
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 on Monday.
Cardiff City chief executive Ken Choo said everyone at the club was ‘very distressed’ and ‘praying for positive news.’
On Tuesday at 5pm Channel Islands rescue teams called off the search for the day. It is expected to resume today at first light.
In a statement 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.’
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 in Cardiff as the striker got set to sign his three-and-a-half-year contact
Cardiff City announced the signing of the Argentinian striker (pictured with Ken Choo) in a club record fee of £15 million
‘The Last Goodbye’: Emiliano Sala posted this photograph on Instagram on Monday, bidding farewell to his old teammates at Nantes Football Club, after he signed a record £15 million contract with Cardiff City. It is believed to be the last photo of him
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’.
Mr Fitzgerald said there could be a ‘five per cent’ chance of finding Sala and the pilot, adding: ‘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.’
John Fitzgerald, chief officer of the Channel Islands Air Search, said he was not optimistic about finding Sala and the pilot. Pictured left, an RNLI lifeboat searches off Alderney. Right: 1,150 square miles were searched on Tuesday before nightfall
The aircraft left Nantes at 19.15 on Monday headed for Cardiff and was flying at 5,000 feet before it fell off the radar at 2,300ft during a descent cleared with Jersey air traffic controllers
This graphic shows the lifeboat’s path as it circled Alderney during a nearly-24-hour-long search for the aircraft
French police, the French civil aviation authority and Nantes Football Club confirmed that Sala was one of the two people on board the single-prop plane.
The Piper Malibu was flying at 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.
A search which scrambled within minutes of the plane disappearing was called off at 2am on Tuesday morning ‘due to strengthening winds, worsening sea conditions and reducing visibility’ but resumed at 8am, before being halted overnight again at sunset on Tuesday.
Thousands of people have joined vigils in France and in Wales, and have laid wreaths outside Sala’s former club in Nantes, and outside the ground of Cardiff City where he was due to start training on Tuesday morning.
Flowers were laid at the base of the statue of Cardiff City footballer Frederick Charles Keenor outside the stadium
Flowers, scarves, signs and candles have been left outside the Cardiff City ground for missing footballer Emiliano Sala
Welsh daffodils have been laid outside the Cardiff City ground in Wales as the team suspended training today
In Nantes where Sala has played since 2015, the flag of his native Argentina sat side by side with yellow tulips and candles
Nantes fans came to the ground to hold a vigil for their missing former player Emiliano Sala, in the hopes an air and sea rescue mission might still report good news
A fan poses with an edition of France Football with the former Nantes star on the cover, in a vigil for the player
Outside the stadium in Nantes many fans held up Sala’s number 9 shirt. He had returned to bid farewell to his former team mates before starting a new chapter of his career in the UK
Supporters proudly held flags and shirts, and laid yellow tulips as they paid tribute to Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala
Tearful fans held scarves and candles tonight in Nantes as the Channel Islands called off their S&R mission overnight when darkness fell. It is due to start again on Wednesday morning but officials said hopes of survival in the cold water were ‘slim’
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
Cardiff City ‘distressed and concerned’
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.’
This morning 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.’
‘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.’
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.
‘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.’
70 years of tragic football crashes
The disappearance of Emiliano Sala’s plane on Monday night is the latest air accident involving football teams and club owners.
In May 1949, 18 Torino players and five club officials died when their plane crashed as it made its approach to Turin airport.
Eight Manchester United players and three club officials died when an aircraft carrying the ‘Busby Babes’ crashed in icy conditions at Munich airport on February 6, 1958.
Eight Danish Olympic football trialists were killed in a plane crash in Copenhagen in July 1960, and in October 1996, Chelsea vice-chairman Matthew Harding, 42, died in a helicopter crash in Cheshire.
In November 2016, 19 players from Brazilian team Chapecoense died when their plane crashed in Colombia on the way to the Copa Sudamericana finals. Three players survived.
In October last year, Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the pilot and three other passengers were killed when their helicopter crashed shortly after taking off from the pitch at King Power Stadium in Leicester.
The Premier League club had signed Sala on a three-and-a-half-year contact on Saturday.
Nantes announced their French Cup match due to be staged on Tuesday night against L’Entente Sannois Saint-Gratien had 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, tweeted ‘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 understood to be very 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.
‘He’s in touch with his family all the time, mainly on WhatsApp,’ a Brittany-based source said.
‘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.’
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
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
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, an electrician, and a sister, who is a care worker, both in Argentina.
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’
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 FA-46 Malibu light aircraft similar to the plane Sala described as sounding like it was ‘falling to pieces’ last night
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
Troubling safety record of the Piper PA-46 Malibu
There is no information on what may have caused this plane to disappear off radar last night.
But the aircraft – a single-prop Piper PA-46 Malibu with room for a pilot and up to five passengers – was once made the subject of a special advisory notice, an ‘airworthiness directive’ issued by US air authorities after a spate of fatal accidents. The AD, which imposed operational limitations, was later lifted.
In 1992 the USA’s National Transportation Safety Board published a Special Investigation report after Piper PA-46 series Mallibu and Mirage airplanes were involved in seven fatal accidents in the United States, Mexico, and Japan in less than two years from May 1989 to March 1991.
Between its launch in 1983, and 2008, the Malibu and its derivatives were involved in 12 crashes in which the airplane came apart in midair, killing everyone aboard. (Around 1,000 of the airplanes were built in this period.) The structural failures are accompanied by a long list of other crashes involving PA-46s.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, there have been a total of 165 serious PA-46 crashes, a rate of more than 16 per cent. These other crashes have been attributed to everything from engine failure to pilot error.
In 1990, the National Transportation Safety Board investigated the crashes to determine whether the Malibu was airworthy. Despite the high number of similar crashes, the NTSB concluded that there was nothing wrong with the Malibu’s design or construction. Instead, they pinned the accidents on a combination of pilot error and omissions in the airplane’s operating manual.
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.’
Speaking earlier today, Mr Fitzgerald said 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.’
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
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 plane lost contact near the Casquets lighthouse off the coast of Alderney
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.
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.