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WORLD | 24-01-2019 10:26

Search resumes for missing plane of Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala

The light aircraft carrying the Argentine striker, who signed for Cardiff City at the weekend, disappeared from radar around 20 kilometres north of Guernsey on Monday night.

Rescue workers on the British island of Guernsey resumed the hunt Thursday for a missing plane carrying Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala, who is feared dead after days of fruitless searches.

The light aircraft carrying the Argentine striker, who signed for Cardiff City at the weekend, disappeared from radar around 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Guernsey on Monday night.

"We are commencing a coastal search," Guernsey police said on Twitter, noting a search plane was being deployed.

Multiple aircraft, including from Britain and France, and lifeboats were used on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"The water is very cold at the moment, the sea conditions are very rough out there, the wind is very strong," John Fitzgerald, chief officer of Channel Island Air Search, told AFP on Wednesday. "I think even the most hardened person out there – they'd have to be really tough to survive those conditions for the length of time that they'd been there."

Sala, who signed on Saturday from French club Nantes for a reported fee of 17 million euros (US$19.3 million), was flying to Cardiff in a single-engine Piper PA-46 Malibu aircraft.

Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), which is probing the disappearance, said the plane was registered in the United States.

It has emerged the Argentine footballer expressed concerns about the jet on the flight, according to an audio message sent to friends and relatives.

"I'm on a plane that looks like it's going to fall apart," the 28-year-old said in a rambling WhatsApp audio message from on board.

'Floating objects' 

Two days of searches covering a swathe of the Channel around Guernsey – which sits off the north coast of France – led to sightings of "a number of floating objects in the water," police have previously said.

The Guernsey coastguard on Wednesday named the pilot, the only other person in the plane, as David Ibbotson.

British media said he was a 60-year-old married father of three and lived in Scunthorpe in northern England.

The player's mother, Mercedes, told Argentine television channel C5N on Tuesday that the plane belonged to Cardiff chairman Mehmet Dalman, but he disputed the claim.

"I can say to you categorically that the plane had nothing to do with Cardiff City," he responded Wednesday.

Dalman said the club had offered to pay for his flight but Sala had "made his own arrangements."

"I can't tell you who arranged the flight because I don't know."

In Sala's Argentine hometown of Progreso, his father Horacio told the press on Tuesday that as "the hours go by and I don't know anything, it makes me fear the worst".

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.

The club called off Tuesday's training session, and stunned supporters laid flowers and scarves outside the club's stadium.

- AFP

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