Body recovered from plane wreckage identified as footballer Emiliano Sala

Jamie Johnson
The Telegraph
A poster of Argentinian footballer Emiliano Sala reading
A poster of Argentinian footballer Emiliano Sala reading

The body of Premier League footballer Emiliano Sala has been recovered from the wreckage of a plane which crashed into the English Channel two weeks ago.

The 28-year old had been flying from Nantes to Cardiff, but the Piper aircraft piloted by David Ibbotson, 60, lost radar contact 24 nautical miles North of Guernsey, and was later found 220ft under the sea.

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On Tuesday night a mission to carefully remove his body from the aircraft was launched by specially trained MoD salvage officials, and they brought it onto their vessel, the Geo Ocean III.

In the pitch black, operating 220ft underwater, and using a remotely controlled submersible, the team also attempted to recover the wreckage of the plane, but poor weather conditions curtailed their efforts and “the difficult decision was taken to bring the overall operation to a close.”

Last night, Dorset police said: “The body brought to Portland Port today, Thursday 7 February 2019, has been formally identified by HM Coroner for Dorset as that of professional footballer Emiliano Sala.

“The families of Mr Sala and the pilot David Ibbotson have been updated with this news and will continue to be supported by specially-trained family liaison officers. Our thoughts remain with them at this difficult time.

“HM Coroner will continue to investigate the circumstances of this death supported by Dorset Police.”

Sala had just signed for Cardiff City for a club-record fee of £15 million, on a contract worth around £50,000 a week when he boarded the flight. He would never play a minute for them.

After travelling to Nantes to say a "last goodbye" to his former teammates, as he called it on Instagram, the Argentinian striker took off for Cardiff in a 35-year-old single engine aircraft organised by football agent Mark McKay.

While on the plane, and in treacherous weather, Sala sent a Whatsapp voice message to his friends, saying "he was "really scared" and the "plane seems like it is breaking apart".

He added: "If you don't have news from me in an hour and a half, I don't know if they are going to send someone to search for me because they will not find me."

<span>Emiliano Sala in action</span> <span>Credit: Stephane Mahe/Reuters </span>
Emiliano Sala in action Credit: Stephane Mahe/Reuters

At around 8:15pm on 21 January, just an hour into the flight, the pilot asked air traffic control to reduce altitude from 5,000 ft to 2,300 feet.

A short time later, the aircraft disappeared from radar screens.

A four day intensive search and rescue mission led by the Guernsey coast guard and the Channel Islands Air Search teams found no trace of the plane or its occupants.

Sala's family launched a crowdfunding page to raise money to restart the search and received some £330,000. The family hired David Mearns, a "shipwreck hunter", who found the plane within two hours of searching.

Last night, they finally received the news they had been dreading.

The status of the pilot is still not known, and the missing persons investigation is still open.

Tributes to the Argentine were paid on Saturday night, when Cardiff City players wore t-shirts bearing Sala’s face as they warmed up ahead of their match against Bournemouth.

Striker Bobby Reid opened the scoring and dedicated his goal to his teammate by holding up a picture of the footballer to the fans.

Manager Neil Warnock was visibly upset at the final whistle, and said afterwards: "It has been a very emotional 10 days. It just got to me in the end. It can’t be helped, can it?”

Previously, he said that it was “by far the most difficult week in my career. By a mile.”

Vigils were also held in the French city of Nantes, where Sala had spent three years of his career, scoring some 42 goals in 120 games.

On Tuesday evening, they beat Toulouse 2-0 in the French cup, with FC Nantes tweeting: “Opening the scoring in the ninth minute. Obviously,” with a picture of Sala, who wore the number nine shirt.

 

 

 

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