Plane carrying Cardiff City soccer player Sala disappears over English Channel

PARIS (Reuters) – Newly signed Cardiff City soccer player Emiliano Sala was missing on Tuesday after the light aircraft he was traveling in disappeared between France and England the previous evening, France’s civil aviation authority said.

FILE PHOTO: Emiliano Sala in action at La Beaujoire Stadium, Nantes, on March 18, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Rescue helicopters and boats searched more than 1,000 square miles off the Channel Islands for the single-engine Piper Malibu that was flying Sala from the French city of Nantes to Cardiff when it lost radar contact off Guernsey late on Monday.

The 28-year-old Argentine forward joined Premier League strugglers Cardiff City from FC Nantes last week for a club record fee of about 17 million euros ($19 million). He had played in France since 2012.

“At this time no trace of the missing aircraft had been found,” Guernsey police said.

A spokeswoman for the DGAC aviation authority confirmed Sala had been on board.

The plane had been cruising at 5,000 feet when the pilot requested to descend to a lower altitude on passing Guernsey. It lost radar contact at 2,300 feet, the police added.

John Fitzgerald, chief executive of Channel Islands Air Search, said: “From what I gather, nothing has been seen as yet. If they are wearing the right dry suits or they got into a life raft, then the probability is not too bad.

“If they are in the water without any protection, the water is really too cold at the moment for any form of survival beyond an hour or so,” Fitzgerald told Sky TV.

Sala’s father told Argentine TV channel C5N: “I didn’t know anything because I’m away from home, I’m a truck driver. A friend who saw it on TV told me. I’m in despair. I pray that this ends well.”

Cardiff City chairman Mehmet Dalman said the club was “very concerned”. The club tweeted a video clip of Sala last week saying: “It gives me great pleasure and I can’t wait to start training, meet my new team mates and get down to work.”

Sala scored 12 goals for Nantes this season. Officials of the Ligue 1 club did not immediately comment.

France’s soccer federation said it had postponed Nantes’s French Cup last-32 game against Entente Sannois-Saint Gratien which had been scheduled for Wednesday.

Reporting by Julie Carriat, Emmanuel Jarry, Julien Pretot in Paris and Michael Holden in London, Additional reporting by Gabriel Burin in Buenos Aires, Writing by John Irish and Richard Lough; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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