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Emiliano Sala: search for footballer and pilot resumes

The Guardian logo The Guardian 24/01/2019 Steven Morris in Guernsey and Josh Halliday
a boat that is floating in the water: A Channel Islands lifeboat © EPA A Channel Islands lifeboat

The search for the missing footballer Emiliano Sala and a pilot has resumed after their plane went missing over the Channel Islands on Monday.

Guernsey police said on Thursday morning that a search and rescue aircraft would scour the north coast of France as well as islands and rocks around Guernsey.

On Wednesday the police said they were basing their hunt on the premise that Sala and the pilot, Dave Ibbotson from Lincolnshire, may have made it into a life-raft. The search was suspended when night fell.

Related: 'Very little hope' for Sala and pilot (Guardian)

The new tactic suggests they are focusing on coastal areas rather than the open sea.

Tributes left outside Cardiff Football Stadium © Reuters Tributes left outside Cardiff Football Stadium

In a message released at 7.50am on Thursday the police said: “We are commencing a coastal search using be Channel Islands Air Search plane of Burhou, the Casquets, Alderney, the north coast of the Cherbourg peninsula, north coast of Jersey and then back over Sark.”

Burhou, Alderney and Sark are small Channel islands. The Casquests are rocks and the site of a lighthouse. It is understood that a French navy vessel has also been directed to the area to assist.

Related: Sala leaves chilling final message aboard plane (Mirror)

Although hopes have been raised that the pair had made it to a life-raft some of those involved in the rescue said that even if this was the case, there was little chance they would have survived since Monday night in cold, choppy conditions.

A bouquet of flowers with the words that read, 'Pray for Sola' is left by a FC Nantes football club supporter © Getty A bouquet of flowers with the words that read, 'Pray for Sola' is left by a FC Nantes football club supporter

Sala, 28, and Ibbotson, 59, have been missing since their small plane disappeared from radar as the footballer was being flown to Wales having been sold to Cardiff City by the French team Nantes for £13m.

Sala, who is Argentinian, is believed to have sent a voicemail message to his father saying he was frightened that the plane was about to break up. He said: “I’m here on a plane that looks like it’s about to fall apart, and I’m going to Cardiff … If in an hour and a half you have no news from me, I don’t know if they are going to send someone to look for me because they cannot find me, but you know … Dad, how scared am I!”

Sala’s former girlfriend Berenice Schkair, 27, wrote on social media: “I want to wake up and all of this to be a lie. Please investigate because I cannot believe this accident.” In a separate post, which was later deleted, Buenos Aires-born Schkair wrote: “Investigate the football mafia, because I don’t believe this was an accident.”

A portrait of Emiliano Sala in front of the entrance of the FC Nantes football club training centre © Getty A portrait of Emiliano Sala in front of the entrance of the FC Nantes football club training centre

Ibbotson is an experienced flyer and a member of the British Parachute Association (BPA), from the small town of Crowle, near Scunthorpe.

Debra Middleton, the mayor of Crowle and Ealand, said Ibbotson was “very well known and very well liked” and that residents were hoping desperately for a positive outcome. “We all really do feel for his family. Everybody’s listening to the news and hoping everything’s OK.”

John Fitzgerald, the Channel Islands air search chief officer, said: “We’re out there looking for something you don’t expect to see, whether it’s a whole aircraft, a life-raft or bits of whatever. We have seen lots of things in the water, but that’s not to say they’re from the plane. They could be from the ship, from the land, anywhere.”

Emiliano Sala on January 18, 2019 in Cardiff, Wales © Getty Emiliano Sala on January 18, 2019 in Cardiff, Wales

Fitzgerald suggested it was unlikely the pair would survive for days even if they were in a raft. “The sea is 8-9C. That takes your core temperature away very quickly. Unless you are in a survival suit and really know how to look after yourself, you will have severe issues.”

The plane took off at 7.15pm on Monday and was flying at an altitude of 5,000ft (1,500 metres). On passing Guernsey, it “requested descent”, but Jersey air traffic control lost contact with it while it was at 2,300ft.

Cardiff City said Sala had arranged the flight himself. In a statement, Sala’s agent, Mark McKay, expressed his sadness at the news. “I knew Emiliano well,” he said. “He was a wonderful person and I count myself fortunate to have known him.” He made it clear that neither he nor anyone in his family owned the aircraft.

Nantes' Argentine forward Emiliano Sala © Getty Nantes' Argentine forward Emiliano Sala

Graham Lines, priest in charge at St Oswald’s in Crowle, said: “It is still a mystery as to what has actually happened but prayers are being said for a safe recovery of both those missing men.”

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