Search for Argentine soccer star Sala called off, feared dead

Emiliano Sala
A photo of Emiliano Sala with the words "Keep Hoping" appears on the grids of a training center in La Joneliere, Nantes, France, on Thursday. (Eddy Lemaistre/EPA-EFE photo)

GUERNSEY, U.K. (UPI) — British authorities on Thursday called off the search for Argentine soccer star Emiliano Sala, who disappeared earlier this week aboard a single-engine airplane over the English Channel.

British and French searchers have looked for Sala and a pilot since Monday, when the Piper PA-46 Malibu disappeared off the coast of the island of Alderney.

“Despite the best efforts of air and search assets from the Channel Islands, U.K. and France, which has covered an area of approximately 1,700 [square] miles — with a significant amount of this searched more than once — and having examined mobile phone data and satellite imagery, we have been unable to find any trace of the aircraft, the pilot or the passenger,” a statement from Guernsey police Harbour Master Capt. David Barker said.

He said there have been more than 24 hours of continuous searching for the two men using airplanes, helicopters, lifeboats, and passing ships and fishing boats.

“The chances of survival at this stage are extremely remote,” he said.

“Next of kin have been informed of this development, and my thoughts go out to the family of the pilot and passengers at this most difficult of times.”

Sala was flying from Nantes, France, to his new team in Cardiff City.

His friends said he left voice and text messages while on the plane, showing concern for its safety.

“I’m here on a plane that looks like it’s about to fall apart,” he said in one voicemail.

“Let’s see what happens. … If in an hour and-a-half you have no news from me, I don’t know if they are going to send someone to look for me because they cannot find me.”

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The 28-year-old told another friend via text message that the plane was making “weird noises.”

A short time later, the aircraft disappeared from radar at about 2,300 feet after the pilot requested permission to land in Guernsey, an island in the English Channel.

Reporting by Danielle Haynes

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