‘He’s alive’: Tearful sister’s plea
Police have ended their search for Premier League player Emiliano Sala, saying the chances of finding the Argentinian alive three days after his small plane went missing over the Channel were "extremely remote".
Their decision was met with anguished disbelief by the forward's sister Romina, who, speaking through tears, begged the search teams not to give up.
The light aircraft transporting the 28-year-old striker, who signed for Cardiff City at the weekend, disappeared from radar around 20km north of Guernsey on Monday night.
The tiny British island sits off the northern coast of France. "We reviewed all the information available to us, as well as knowing what emergency equipment was on board, and have taken the difficult decision to end the search," Guernsey police said in a statement. "The chances of survival at this stage are extremely remote."
Scouring stormy, icy water with vessels and aircraft, teams from the Channel Islands, the United Kingdom and France covered 4400sq/km - an area half the size of Cyprus.
They found some undisclosed debris on Tuesday but no definitive signs of the light plane chartered to take Sala to his new team in the English Premier League, which is followed fanatically by tens of millions across the world.
Sala's sister Romina, who flew to Cardiff from the family's hometown of Progreso in central Argentina, told the BBC and Sky News that she knew "in my heart, Emiliano is still alive".
"Please, please, please don't stop the search," she begged, wiping away tears. "We understand the effort but please don't stop the search."
Speaking to media in Progreso, Sala's father Horacio said: "The only thing I'm asking for is that they continue looking. He can't have just disappeared like that."
The police said that while teams were no longer "actively searching, the incident remains open and we will be broadcasting to all vessels and aircraft in the area to keep a look out for any trace of the aircraft".
'IT'S GOING TO FALL APART'
Sala, who signed on Saturday from French club Nantes for a reported fee of $27 million - a club record for Cardiff - was flying to the Welsh capital in a single-engine Piper PA-46 Malibu aircraft.
"We were looking forward to providing Emiliano with the next step in his life and career," the team's Malaysian owner, Tan Sri Vincent Tan, said in a statement.
He described Sala as a "good-natured and humble young man who was eager to impress in the Premier League".
Sala expressed concerns about the jet during the flight, sending a nervous WhatsApp audio message to relatives and friends saying they might have to send search teams if they do not hear from him again in a few hours. "I'm on a plane that looks like it's going to fall apart," he said.
British media said the pilot David Ibbotson was a 60-year-old married father of three who lived in Scunthorpe in northern England.
Football agent Mark McKay confirmed Thursday he was involved in making the travel arrangements for Sala between France and Wales through the player and his agent Meissa N'Diaye.
"I have been in contact with officials from Cardiff and the player's agent over these difficult past few days and will continueto do so," he told Britain's Sky Sports News.
The striker, who had been at Nantes since 2015 and had scored 13 goals in all competitions this season, had signed a three-and-a-half-year contract with relegation-threatened Cardiff subject to receiving international clearance.
Flowers and scarfs were laid outside the club and a vigil was held for Sala in Nantes earlier this week.
Tributes were also paid to Sala at several French Cup matches this week, while his former Nantes teammate Yacine Bammou raised his hands towards the skin an emotional celebration after scoring for Caen on Wednesday.