Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala was onboard a plane which disappeared from radar in the English Channel, France’s civil aviation authority has confirmed, with emergency crews forced to call off their search after darkness fell.
The Premier League club said it was “very distressed” as it was confirmed Sala, 28, was one of two people on board the aircraft, as an air and sea search continued after the Piper Malibu vanished close to Guernsey on Monday night.
Sala – who was hired by Cardiff from FC Nantes on Saturday – made two trips to the Welsh capital last week before his signing was confirmed.
Posts on social media showed Sala was back in Nantes on Monday. He was due to return to Wales on Monday night for training on Tuesday.
Cardiff’s chief executive, Ken Choo, said: “We were very shocked upon hearing the news that the plane had gone missing.
“All of us at Cardiff City FC would like to thank our fans, and the entire footballing family for their support at this difficult time.
“We continue to pray for positive news.”
Guernsey Police suspended searches for the missing aircraft after sunset on Tuesday. An area totalling 1,115 square miles had been explored for clues.
The force tweeted: “The current plan is for it to resume at sunrise tomorrow.
“There will be no further updates tonight.”
Meanwhile, the chief officer of the Channel Islands Air Search, John Fitzgerald, said the probability of finding anyone from the missing aircraft was “reducing very rapidly”.
“I think with the sea temperatures and the sea conditions the chances of finding anybody alive are reducing all the time,” Fitzgerald said.
“The sea temperatures are very, very cold and just sap the core temperature of anybody in the water very, very quickly.
He said any decision taken by emergency services to call of the search would be “difficult”.
The plane, which had two people on board, lost contact near the Casquets lighthouse around eight miles north-west of Alderney at 8.30pm.
The plane is thought to have been travelling from Nantes in Brittany to Cardiff.
HM Coastguard said the incident was not in the UK search and rescue area, although it had sent two helicopters to help.
“HM Coastguard are currently assisting Guernsey Coastguard with a search for a light aircraft off Alderney in the Channel Islands,” a spokeswoman said.
“HM Coastguard helicopters from Solent and Newquay have been helping to search overnight with nothing found.“
The search and rescue operation had to deal with worsening conditions as they scoured the area on Monday night.
“At that time there were some showers around, but nothing too intense. Wind speeds were not too bad – average speeds were around 15 to 20mph,” Met Office meteorologist Mark Wilson said.
“But it has got pretty wet, we’ve seen a band of rain push down from the north-west. That rain set in around 11.30pm to midnight and it’s still raining now.
“It’s also a bit windier, with gusts around 35mph.”
Amine Harit, a Moroccan footballer who played with Sala at Nantes before joining German side FC Schalke in 2017, said he was praying for the missing player in a tweet. He wrote simply “Emi..” followed by a string of praying hands and crying emojis.
Nantes forward Randal Kolo-Muani retweeted Harit’s message on his personal account.
And former England star Gary Lineker said the news was “terribly worrying”.
“Hopefully, somehow, they’ll be found and safe,” he wrote on Twitter.
The official FC Nantes Twitter account has posted a statement and a message to their followers about missing striker Emiliano Sala.
“The management and the whole Club are hopeful and it is the whole family of FC Nantes who prays that [Emiliano Sala] and the other passengers of the plane are finally found safe and sound,” the club said in a tweet.
“FC Nantes joins the call of supporters for the rally tonight from 6.30 pm at the Royal Place in Nantes to drop a yellow tulip at the foot of the fountain,” the club added.