25/01/2019 14:10 GMT | Updated 25/01/2019 16:28 GMT

Emiliano Sala: Investigators To Probe Whether Pilot Had Correct Licence

The search for the footballer and the aircraft he was in was called off for good on Thursday.

Investigators will check whether the pilot of a plane which vanished over the English Channel with Premier League footballer Emiliano Sala onboard had the correct licence.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said the licence of pilot David Ibbotson will be one line of inquiry as it investigates the disappearance of the small plane following the end of efforts to locate it.

The Times newspaper reported on Friday that Ibbotson, 59, held a private pilots licence of the kind which did not allow him to take fee-paying passengers.

Ibbotson, from Lincolnshire, would have needed a commercial licence to receive payment for the trip, which requires many more hours of training and flying.

The AAIB said that licensing was always an element of its investigations into incidents involving aircraft and that its work does not apportion blame or liability.

It comes after Ibbotson was said to have posted on Facebook whilst on the ground at Nantes airport, north west France, that his ability to navigate the facility’s landing system was “a bit rusty”.

David Ibbotson held a licence that would not have allowed him to transport fee-paying passengers.

Sala, 28, was flying from France to Wales, after signing for Cardiff City in a reported £15m transfer from FC Nantes.

It was reported this week that Sala recorded several WhatsApp voice messages during his journey, in which he expressed concerns for the plane’s airworthiness.

“I’m here on a plane that looks like it’s about to fall apart,” Sala said in one message. Investigators will examine the messages as part of their probe.

Sala’s sister, Romina, has pleaded with officials to recommence their search for her brother, describing him as a “fighter” and re-iterating her belief he is still alive.

However, Guernsey Police said the chances of survival were “extremely remote” when it called off search efforts for good on Thursday evening.

The Piper Malibu plane disappeared from radar on Monday night shortly after requesting a descent to 2,800 feet just north west of Alderney in the Channel Islands.

LOIC VENANCE via Getty Images
Tributes have been paid to Sala in France and Wales.

A major search operation involving jets, boats and helicopters was launched the next day.

Rescue workers faced “rough seas, heavy hail showers and squalls” on shifts lasting 10 hours or more, the RNLI said. 

Deputy second coxswain Mark Gaudion said: “There is always an overwhelming desire to have a positive outcome.

“Each search is different depending on the circumstances; sometimes we are searching for people that we know well in the community and on other occasions this is not the case, but every search is treated equally, with compassion and determination to locate those missing.”

The RNLI said its thoughts were with the friends and family of the footballer and pilot. 

Google/HuffPost Illustration
The small plane vanished near the Channel Islands on Monday evening.

Cardiff City confirmed it would not hold a minute’s silence for Sala in respect of his family’s belief that hope remains for his safe return.