Sala search called off

The search for missing Argentine soccer player Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson was called off by authorities last week.

On Jan. 19, Sala, 28, was transferred from French side FC Nantes to Cardiff City FC, the only Welsh club in the English Premier League, on a three-and-a-half year deal and a £15 million fee, a record signing for the Welsh side.

Sala returned to Nantes, France, after a successful medical and signing in Cardiff, Wales.

Days later, Sala tweeted “La ultima ciao,” Spanish for “The last goodbye,” along with a picture of him and his teammates from FC Nantes.

Sala and Ibbotson departed from Nantes Atlantique Airport to Cardiff Airport on the night of Jan. 21.

On the morning of Jan. 22, there was growing concern at Cardiff City Stadium and the House of Sports Coaching Academy, the training ground for Cardiff City FC, after Sala did not report to the team.

It was reported that the aircraft had departed from Nantes at 8:15 a.m. local time, but the Argentine striker and his pilot had lost contact with air traffic controllers at roughly 8:30 a.m. local time, when the aircraft disappeared from radars over the Channel Islands.

After three days, Harbour Master Captain David Barker of Guernsey Police released a statement ending the search, stating, “Despite the best efforts of air and search assets from the Channel Islands, UK and France, which has covered an area of approximately 1,700 sq. 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. The chances of survival at this stage are extremely remote.”

Before his transfer to Cardiff City FC, Sala played for French clubs such as Bordeaux, Orleans, Niort, Caen and Nantes FC.

At the time of his transfer, Sala established himself as one of the most prolific players in French Ligue 1 and was the fifth-highest scorer in French football this season.

“Being a huge soccer fan myself and one who interacts with these fans everyday, it’s sad to hear news like this because it’s felt around the whole community,” junior Jake Barford said. “One thing that I love about this community, though, is that you get everyone rallying around these events and showing support. We are all super passionate about the sport, and when something like this happens, everyone comes together no matter who they support on the pitch.”

Malaysian businessman and Cardiff City FC owner Vincent Tan said in a statement after the search was called off, “Monday evening’s news shook everyone at Cardiff City FC to the core. We were looking forward to providing Emiliano with the next step in his life and career. Those who met Emiliano described a good-natured and humble young man who was eager to impress in the Premier League.

“The response from the football community has been truly touching and we place on record our sincere thanks to those who have sent messages of support. We also thank everyone involved with the search and rescue operation, and continue to pray for Emiliano, David Ibbotson and their families.”

Claudio Ranieri, who is currently the manager of Fulham FC of the Premier League, coached Sala while at FC Nantes from 2017-18. Ranieri said of Sala, “He’s a fantastic footballer who always gave his best when we worked together in France. Like everyone else, I was devastated to hear the news that Emiliano was on board the aircraft.”

Cardiff City FC was promoted from the English Football League Championship after last season but currently sits in the relegation zone, at the bottom of the Premier League table.

Both Nantes FC and Cardiff City FC plan to continue their league matches as scheduled.

On Tuesday, a tribute was held during Cardiff City’s match against Arsenal — the game that was supposed to be Sala’s debut. According to BBC News, Sala’s name was listed in the game program.

By: Michael Rauber | Staff Writer