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Emiliano Sala: Investigators to check if pilot of missing plane had correct licence | UK News

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Investigators are checking whether the pilot who disappeared over the Channel alongside Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala had the correct licence.

Guernsey Police have announced an end to the search for the Piper PA-46 Malibu plane which began on Monday, having deemed the chances of survival to be “extremely remote”.

Romina Sala, the sister of the Argentine forward, has pleaded with rescuers to keep looking for the aircraft, describing the 28-year-old as a “fighter” who is “not going to give up”.



Romina Sala believes her brother to be alive and wants the search to continue



‘Please don’t stop the search for Emiliano’

But in light of the official search being called off, the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) has opened an investigation and has confirmed it is looking into the licence held by pilot Dave Ibbotson.

He was tasked with flying Sala to the Welsh capital after the footballer signed from French side Nantes, where he had been enjoying a prolific season in front of goal.

Mr Ibbotson, a 59-year-old from Crowle near Scunthorpe, had checked himself into Nantes airport in France on Facebook when he arrived to collect the record £15m signing – and admitted to friends that he was “a bit rusty”.



Emiliano Sala went missing when his plane disappeared



‘I’m scared’: Sala’s audio message from plane

When a friend questioned whether that was really the case, Mr Ibbotson replied: “You wanna bet, a little on the high side hehe, better than on the low side.”

According to Federal Aviation Administration records, Mr Ibbotson held a private licence and had passed a medical exam as recently as November.

The Civil Aviation Authority said the aircraft was registered in the US, where regulations state private pilots cannot make a profit by carrying passengers.

Emiliano Sala is Cardiff's record signing
Image:
Striker Sala was a record signing for Cardiff City

Cardiff City chairman Mehmet Dalman has said that the flight was not organised by the club, with Sala making his own travel arrangements via football agent Mark McKay.

The Argentine striker reportedly voiced fears about the safety of the plane in a WhatsApp audio message he sent to friends while on board.

In the message, a voice is heard saying: “I am here in the plane that seems is about to fall to pieces. I’m scared.”

Mr McKay confirmed to Sky Sports News that he had been involved in arranging the flight, but said the plane was “not owned in any way or part by either myself or any member of my family”.

FC Nantes supporters have been leaving flowers outside the club
Image:
FC Nantes supporters have been leaving flowers outside the club

The plane left Nantes for Cardiff at 7.15pm on Monday and lost contact with Jersey air traffic control not long after requesting to descend.

Since then, Nantes supporters have held vigils for Sala at his old home stadium, with his goalscoring record having made him a firm favourite on the terraces at the Ligue 1 side.

Cardiff signed Sala for a club record £15m to bolster their attack and he was due to start training this week.

Nantes supporters in tears over Emiliano Sala
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Nantes supporters have been praying for the striker’s survival

The Premier League has announced that there will be a “moment of silent reflection” for Sala and Mr Ibbotson before every match next week, with Cardiff due to face Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night.

The league said it was committed to supporting Cardiff at what it called an “incredibly sad time”.

Fellow Argentines Sergio Aguero and Nicolas Otamendi, who play for Premier League champions Manchester City, have said they hope they are found alive.



Gathered in Nantes’ Place Royale, fans waved banners, lit flares, and chanted Sala’s name.



Vigil in France for missing footballer

Aguero wrote on Twitter: “We don’t want to give up, we want to hold on to hope.

“That’s why I also wish #NoDejenDeBuscar – don’t call off the search.

“From the start, my thoughts have been with Emiliano, his family and friends #PrayForSala.”

Emiliano Sala signed to Cardiff FC for £15m from Nantes
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Sala had enjoyed a prolific season for Nantes

Otamendi added: “I’d like to express my sympathies to Emiliano’s family, and urge the police to keep searching for the plane. There’s still hope to find them alive.

“All my support to his family, and let’s hope they get an answer urgently.”

Nantes coach Vahid Halilhodzic was visibly emotional as he paid tribute to Sala in an interview on Thursday, describing his former player as a “real warrior”.

He said: “We have to respect the decision of the family who, for the moment, have had no confirmation, so hope still exists. We are still waiting for a surprise. I hope that arrives very soon.

“It is for that reason that we do not want to hold either a tribute to him or a minute’s silence.”

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