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Pilot missing with Emiliano Sala is named as Dave Ibbotson

The pilot who is missing along with footballer Emiliano Sala has been named as Dave Ibbotson.

Mr Ibbotson, from Crowle, near Scunthorpe, was flying Sala from France to Cardiff when the single-turbine engine Piper PA-46 Malibu plane went missing over the English Channel on Monday night.

Rescue workers suspended the search for the missing plane on Wednesday night having found "no trace" of the aircraft, police said.

Rough sea conditions are reducing the likelihood of survivors being found, one rescue leader said.

John Fitzgerald, chief officer of Channel Islands Air Search, said: "I can't see how anybody could survive in such temperatures for that length of time. "Looking at the sea conditions today it's very rough out there, there's a good strong wind blowing, with sea conditions [that] are pretty horrendous."

  • "I am scared": Emiliano Sala's WhatsApp audio to a friend minutes before the plane went missing

Sala told friends he was "getting scared" and "aboard a plane that seems like it is falling to pieces" just before the flight disappeared from radar.

The search for the footballer resumed on Wednesday after a WhatsApp voice message emerged that Sala sent to friends while on the plane bound for his new club Cardiff City FC, according to Argentinian site Ole.com.ar.

The striker's father Horacio Sala told reporters he was beginning to lose hope as the search for his son entered a second day as Guernsey Police admitted the chances of finding the 28-year-old Sala alive are "slim" if the plane landed on water.

At his home in Argentina Mr Sala said: "The hours go by and it makes me think of the worst."

"I just want them to find him. The last thing they said is that the communication ended when they crossed the [Channel]."

Dave Ibbotson Credit: Facebook/Dave Ibbotson

On Wednesday evening, police said: "After an intensive search using multiple aircraft and one lifeboat over the last nine hours, we have found no trace of the missing plane.

"With the light now fading, the search will shortly be suspended for the night. A decision about whether to recommence will be taken early tomorrow morning.

Channel Islands Airsearch chief officer John Fitzgerald said yesterday he was “not expecting anyone to be alive."

Horacio Sala - father of Emiliano - and his partner Liliana Ponce in Argentina. Credit: Associated Press

Guernsey Police said rescue workers were prioritising the possibility that Sala and the pilot may be on a life raft after landing on water.

It was the third of four options the force said were being considered in the search and rescue operation:

  • They have landed elsewhere but not made contact.
  • They landed on water, have been picked up by a passing ship but not made contact.
  • They landed on water and made it into the life raft we know was on board.
  • The aircraft broke up on contact with the water, leaving them in the sea.

The French Civil Aviation Authority confirmed on Tuesday that Sala was aboard a light aircraft which disappeared from radar en route from Nantes to Cardiff on Monday evening.

Floral tributes have been left outside the Cardiff City stadium for the club's new signing, while fans of his former club FC Nantes took to the streets in Brittany to chant Sala's name.

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According to Guernsey Police, the Piper PA-46 Malibu, a single turbine engine aircraft carrying two people, departed Nantes at 7.15pm for the Welsh capital and was flying at an altitude of 5,000ft.

On passing Guernsey it "requested descent", but Jersey air traffic control (ATC) lost contact with the plane while it was flying at 2,300ft.

Emiliano Sala shook hands on a three-and-a-half year deal with Cardiff ceo Ken Choo at the weekend. Credit: cardiffcityfc.co.uk

After a 15-hour search from rescue teams, which covered an area totalling 1,155 square miles, Guernsey Police revealed that "a number of floating objects" were seen in the water, but they were "unable to confirm whether any of these are from the missing aircraft".

A statement posted on the official Twitter account of Guernsey Police said: "We have found no signs of those on board. If they did land on the water, the chances of survival are at this stage, unfortunately, slim."

Flowers left on the statue of Cardiff City footballer Frederick Charles Keenor outside Cardiff City Football Club after a plane with new signing Emiliano Sala on board went missing over the English Channel on Monday night. Credit: PA

Cardiff's executive director Ken Choo has expressed his shock and distress at the news.

Choo described Sala as a "great person" and revealed he had been "so happy" to sign for Cardiff. "You could see from his face he is so, so happy to be here and ready to start," Choo said in an in-house TV interview.

"Words cannot describe the look on his face when he met us, we walked him around the ground, he was absolutely ready to give it a go.

"We really feel sad to hear of this news because we met such a great person."

Sala, who tweeted a now far-more poignant picture of his "final goodbye" with his Nantes team-mates, had signed a three-and-a-half year deal with the Welsh club after scoring 12 Ligue 1 goals in 19 appearances this season.

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Choo revealed Sala had described joining the Bluebirds as "one of the best days of his life".

Cardiff have been in contact with Sala's family as they wait for news.

Nantes president Waldemar Kita added on the French club's website: "I'll always have hope, he's a fighter. It's not over, maybe he's somewhere."

Fulham manager Claudio Ranieri, who coached Sala at Nantes, paid tribute to his former player on Twitter.

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"I was devastated to hear the news. Emiliano is a wonderful character," he wrote.

"He's a fighter. The world of football will be united in wishing for some positive news. I pray for Emiliano and his family."

French sports newspaper L'Equipe carried the search for Sala on its front page on Wednesday with the headline: "The disappearance of a warrior".

Nantes' Coupe de France clash with third-tier Entente Sannois, scheduled for Wednesday evening, has been postponed until Sunday while their Ligue 1 fixture against St Etienne - originally due to take place on Saturday - has been moved to Wednesday, January 30.

The location of the point where the plane lost contact. Credit: PA Graphics

Sala, a native of Santa Fe in Argentina, played at youth level for Club Proyecto Crecer in his home country before being snapped up by French club Bordeaux in 2010.

He was then sent out on a series of loans to Orleans, Niort and Caen and, after failing to make more than a handful of appearances for Bordeaux, joined Nantes in 2015.

It was in Brittany where his career began to flourish.

Sala's hat-trick against Toulouse in October 2018 was the first by any Nantes player in Ligue 1 since 2006.

Cardiff signed the forward in a deal reportedly worth in the region of £15million, breaking the previous record of £11million paid for Gary Medel in 2013.