The search for the missing aircraft that was carrying Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala has been abandoned, with Guernsey Police assessing the chances of survival as being “extremely remote”.
Search and rescue efforts resumed for a third day early on Thursday after the Piper Malibu with Sala and pilot David Ibbotson on board went missing en route to the Welsh capital on Monday.
The 28-year-old Argentinian forward became Cardiff’s record signing when he agreed to join them from Ligue 1 side Nantes over the weekend.
Following an extensive operation covering approximately 1,700 square miles around the Channel Islands, a statement issued by Guernsey Police from harbour master Captain David Barker confirmed the active search had been abandoned after his team had been “unable to find any trace of the aircraft, the pilot or the passenger”.
“My team have just met to review the search and rescue operation which has been underway since the plane disappeared on Monday night,” Barker said.
Please read the attached statement.
Unless there is a significant development, there will be no further updates pic.twitter.com/jbEIFMB3zi
— Guernsey Police (@GuernseyPolice) January 24, 2019
“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 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.
“There has been over 24 hours of continuous searching, with 80 hours combined flying time across three planes and five helicopters. Two lifeboats have also been involved, as well as assistance from various passing ships and fishing boats.
“We reviewed all the information available to us, as well as knowing what emergency equipment was on board, and have taken the difficult decision to end the search.
“The chances of survival at this stage are extremely remote.
“Next of kin have been informed of this development, and my thoughts go out to the family of the pilot and passenger at this most difficult of times.”
— FC Nantes (@FCNantes) January 24, 2019
In a subsequent media briefing, Barker confirmed Sala’s family had expressed their dissatisfaction at the search being called off.
“I have spoken to the family of Mr Ibbotsen, I haven’t had a chance to speak to the family of Emiliano Sala but I have offered if that’s what they want,” he said.
“I understand that the family of Emiliano Sala are not content with the decision to stop the search and I fully understand that.
“I am absolutely confident that we could not have done any more.
“The records will be passed to the air accident and investigation branch and they will determine what the next steps are for them. At the same time, it remains a missing person case as far as Guernsey Police are concerned.”
Asked whether Sala and Ibbotsen were missing, presumed alive, Barker responded: “They have to be until they are found.”
Following Tuesday’s fruitless search, Guernsey Police stated the chances of survival were slim, if the plane landed on water.
On Wednesday, the search became focused upon four possible outcomes, with the priority area being a scenario where Sala and Ibbotson made it to the life raft on board the aircraft.
— FCNantes (@FCNantes_EN) January 24, 2019
Other possibilities identified were landing elsewhere or being picked up by a passing ship without making contact and the plane breaking up on contact with water, leaving them in the sea.
Cardiff chairman Mehmet Dalman stated Sala had made his own travel arrangements, while Mark McKay – an agent involved in brokering the player’s move to Cardiff – confirmed he had organised the flight but denied the missing aircraft was owned by him or his family.
Nantes supporters have held vigils in Sala’s honour in the French city, while their scheduled Coupe de France fixture against Entente SSG was postponed.
Floral tributes were laid outside Cardiff City Stadium and chief executive Ken Choo described the Premier League club’s dressing room as “pretty sombre” in an interview with talkSPORT.
Neil Warnock’s side lie 18th in the table and are due to face Arsenal at Emirates Stadium next Tuesday.
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