Calls to resume search for Sala's missing plane grow as family head to UK

Calls to resume the search for the missing plane carrying Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala have grown as more members of his family are expected to travel to the UK.

Club chief executive Ken Choo said Sala’s mother and brother will be making their way to South Wales after the search for the Piper PA-46 Malibu carrying the Argentinian striker and pilot David Ibbotson was called off on Thursday.

The 28-year-old footballer’s sister Romina Sala, joined by her partner Juan Miaz and cousin Maria Sottini, looked at tributes outside Cardiff’s stadium on Friday.

Mr Choo said the mood at the club was “sombre” and “flat”, but it was “fully supporting” the Sala family’s wishes to have information on the incident.

Speaking outside Cardiff’s ground, he said the club will wear yellow daffodils at its next match against Arsenal, with the Sala family invited to attend.

The club is also willing to help the family make a trip to Guernsey, Mr Choo said.

More than 60,000 people have signed an online petition demanding the search for the missing aircraft continue.

Ms Sala earlier begged rescue teams not to give up hope, saying she feels her brother and his pilot are still alive.

Romina Sala, sister of Emiliano Sala, during a press conference in Cardiff (Adam Hale/PA)
Romina Sala, sister of Emiliano Sala, during a press conference in Cardiff (Adam Hale/PA)

The Sala family will organise a private search with hired divers, according to Argentinian media outlet Ole.

Argentinian football stars Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona and Sergio Aguero have also joined calls for the search to resume.

Mr Choo said the club had informed authorities it wanted the search restarted and reiterated that it had not organised Sala’s travel arrangements as it did not have “jurisdiction” over the new signing at the time of the flight.

He described Sala as a “humble man” and a “hero” who was “really looking forward… to joining Cardiff City”.

It could take six months to a year for investigators to collate information on what happened to the plane, Mr Choo claimed.

His comments came after it emerged accident investigators will examine whether its pilot had the correct licence.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has opened a probe since the light aircraft disappeared from radar on Monday night.

Flowers and tributes left outside Cardiff City Football Club (Ben Birchall/PA)
Flowers and tributes left outside Cardiff City Football Club (Ben Birchall/PA)

“We are looking at all operational aspects of the flight, including licensing,” an AAIB spokesman said.

Mr Ibbotson, 59, of Crowle, Lincolnshire, held a private pilot’s licence and passed a medical exam as recently as November, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.

The Civil Aviation Authority said the aircraft was registered in the US, so fell under the States’ regulations.

US law states private pilots cannot make a profit by carrying passengers.

Guernsey’s harbour master Captain David Barker earlier confirmed the “difficult” decision to stop searching, saying the chances of survival were “extremely remote”.

Mr Barker acknowledged Sala’s family were “not content” with the decision to stop actively searching but said he was “absolutely confident” no more could have been done.

The flight left Nantes in France for Cardiff at 7.15pm on Monday, and after requesting to descend, lost contact with Jersey air traffic control over the English Channel.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Cardiff City signed Sala for a club record £15m to bolster their attack and he was due to start training on Tuesday.

Owner Vincent Tan said the news of the plane’s disappearance “shook everyone at Cardiff City FC to the core”.

Sala’s former club Nantes, along with many of its players, backed his sister’s call for the search to resume.

Rescue teams scanned around 1,700 square miles and examined mobile phone data and satellite imagery but found no trace of the aircraft.

Three planes and five helicopters racked up 80 hours’ combined flying time looking for the plane, working alongside two lifeboats and other passing ships.

Lifeboat volunteers “gave their utmost” in “challenging conditions” during the three-day search, the RNLI said.

Channel Island rescue workers faced “rough seas, heavy hail showers and squalls” on shifts lasting 10 hours or more.

- Press Association

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