The search for missing Argentine soccer star Emiliano Sala has been called off three days after his plane vanished over the English Channel.
An air and sea search, covering 2736 square kilometres near the Channel Islands, failed to locate any trace of the missing aircraft, 28-year-old Sala, or his pilot David Ibbotson, with authorities saying their chances of survival are “extremely remote”.
The plane was flying from the French city of Nantes to Wales, where Sala was due to start playing for Premier League side Cardiff City.
The decision to abandon the search was met with an impassioned plea from the Premier League player’s family.
Sala’s sister Romina pleaded with the authorities to keep searching, saying: “I know in my heart Emiliano is still alive.”
“Please, please, please don’t stop the search. We understand the effort but please don’t stop the search,” she said from Cardiff.
“For us, they are still alive. It is difficult to express our feelings at the moment because everything is really hard.”
Guernsey Police announced the search had been called off on Friday morning (Australian time) in a Twitter post that warned that: “Unless there is a significant development, there will be no further updates.”
Harbourmaster Captain David Barker said the chances of survival were “extremely remote”.
“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,” Captain Barker said.
“I understand Emiliano Sala’s family are not content with the decision to stop the search and I fully understand that,” he added, but said he was “absolutely confident that we couldn’t have done any more”.
Captain Barker said that the depth of the sea where the plane had last contact was about 100m and it would remain a missing persons case for the police.
“Despite best efforts of air and search assets from the Channel Islands, UK and France … we have been unable to find any trace of the aircraft the pilot or the passenger,” he said
There is a new Sala in town @premierleague 😎 Very happy to sign here @cardiffcityfc !! I know the challenge is big but together we will make it 🙌
Impatient to discover the league & the team #BlueBirds pic.twitter.com/OiNQUpBpiB
— Emiliano Sala (@EmilianoSala1) January 19, 2019
The single-engine plane carrying Sala lost contact while flying at 700m and disappeared off radar near the Casquets lighthouse, which the BBC reports is infamous among mariners as the site of many shipwrecks.
Sala sent a voice message to friends and family shortly before the plane went missing, saying that he thought the aircraft “was about to crash”.
On Wednesday, Argentine newspaper Clarin published a voice message that Sala apparently sent to friends and which had been verified by the soccer player’s father, Horacio Sala.
“We’re up in the plane and it seems it’s about to crash,” it said.
“If you have not heard anything from me in an hour and a half, I don’t know if they’re going to send someone to find me, because, you know, they’re not going to be able to.
“Dad. I’m really scared.”
Argentine website Ole.com posted other voice messages that it claimed were sent to a WhatsApp group of Sala’s fellow players and friends.
‘I’m here on a plane that looks like it’s about to fall apart, and I’m going to Cardiff, crazy, tomorrow we already start, and in the afternoon we start training, boys, in my new team,” the message said.