The body recovered from the wreckage of a light aircraft that crashed off the Channel Islands has been identified as that of Cardiff City signing Emiliano Sala.
The 28-year-old Argentine was travelling from Nantes to the Welsh capital in a plane piloted by David Ibbotson when the aircraft went missing over the English Channel last month.
“The body brought to Portland port has been formally identified by HM coroner for Dorset as that of professional footballer Emiliano Sala,” Dorset Police confirmed on Thursday. “The families of Sala and the pilot David Ibbotson have been updated with this news and will continue to be supported by specially trained family liaison officers.”
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The force added that the coroner would continue to investigate the circumstances of Sala’s death.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has “decided not to continue efforts to raise the plane, which it had surveyed using a remotely operated vehicle”, reports The Guardian.
“Unfortunately, attempts to recover the aircraft wreckage were unsuccessful before poor weather conditions forced us to return the ROV to the ship,” said an AAIB spokesperson.
“The weather forecast is poor for the foreseeable future and so the difficult decision was taken to bring the overall operation to a close.”
Members of the footballing community have paid tribute to Sala following confirmation of his death. Cardiff City said: “We offer our most heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the family of Emiliano. He and David will forever remain in our thoughts.”
Manchester City player and fellow Argentine Sergio Aguero tweeted: “Rest in peace, Emiliano. My condolences to his friends and family.”
Argentine President Mauricio Macri - who had joined calls for the search for the plane to be resumed after it was initially called off - also offered his sympathies to Sala’s family, saying: “We are with you.”
What happened to the plane?
The Piper Malibu N264DB vanished on its way to Wales from France on 21 January to drop off the 28-year-old Argentine striker just days after his £15m transfer to Cardiff City was announced. Ibbotson, the 59-year-old pilot from North Lincolnshire, lost contact with air traffic controllers after taking off from Nantes at around 7.15pm.
Hope of finding the pair alive quickly diminished and the official search was called off three days later.
But after an online appeal raised hundreds of thousands of pounds, marine scientist and oceanographer David Mearns launched another search with the aid of the AAIB and a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV).
The Piper Malibu was finally spotted on Sunday on the seabed off Guernsey.
How did it crash?
The AAIB is trying to determine what caused the plane to crash into the sea and has said it plans to publish an interim report before 21 February. Investigators might know more once the plane is recovered, but that has not yet been possible because of poor weather.
One aeronautical expert Jorge Polanco told Argentinian news network TyC Sports that “crossing the Channel at night in bad weather, with a single engine, is crazy”.
Polanco said: “The Piper Malibu is an excellent single-engine aircraft, which has the capacity for seven people, but I am very surprised that they have been doing this operation flying at night, with what is the European winter at the moment.”
He added: “It's like flying in Antarctica in the winter with an airplane of that size, which can suffer from what is called icing, thus stopping the engine, and I think something related to that has happened.”
According to the Daily Mail, the pilot had made “up to four attempts to take off” from Nantes before the plane finally began its journey.
When was Sala last heard from?
According to reports, Sala sent a WhatsApp voice message to friends while on board the flight. Argentine media outlet Ole has published the contents of the recording, in which Sala is said to describe conditions on the aircraft shortly before it disappeared.
With the sound of the plane's engine in the background, Sala is reportedly heard saying: “I was over in Nantes sorting things out. I am now aboard a plane that seems like it is falling to pieces. I'm going to Cardiff now, crazy, and tomorrow we get going. I will train with my new team.”
He added: “If you do not have any more news from in an hour and a half, I don't know if they need to send someone to find me. I am getting scared!”
His mother said the tragedy came just as her son was “enjoying the best moment of his career so far”.
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