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  1. ITV Report

Sala family speak of 'infinite sadness' as body recovered from plane confirmed as footballer

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery

The family of Emiliano Sala have expressed their "infinite sadness" after it was confirmed a body recovered from wreckage in the English Channel was that of the footballer.

The player, who had been signed to Cardiff City but was yet to play a match, has been at the centre of an extensive search since the Piper Malibu plane he was travelling in last contact with air traffic control. The body of pilot David Ibbotson has not been found.

Emiliano Sala's family have passed their thoughts to Ibbotson's family, adding that they hope authorities "will do their best to find him."

In a statement, the Sala family said: "We would like to thank you for all your signs of affection and support in what is the most painful time of our lives.

"Seeing the whole world mobilised to support us in our research has been an infinitely precious help. Thanks to you, we are now able to mourn our son, our brother."

During a press conference on Friday morning, the club's manager Neil Warnock said there was likely to be a minute's silence ahead of the match against Southampton this weekend.

He added that the identification of the player's body brings comfort to his family.

He went on to say Sala's death is "a loss to everyone in football," and that the main thing to do now is pay respects to the player.

Police said the families of both men "will continue to be supported by specially-trained family liaison officers."

A stretcher carrying a body is removed from the Geo Ocean III specialist search vessel docked in Portland, Dorset. Credit: PA

They added: "Our thoughts remain with them at this difficult time.

"HM Coroner will continue to investigate the circumstances of this death supported by Dorset Police."

Earlier this week, investigators ended their attempts to recover the aircraft wreckage because of poor weather. The aircraft remains 67 metres underwater 21 miles off the coast of Guernsey in the English Channel.

On Thursday, a body recovered from the crash was brought to Portland, Dorset, by the Geo Ocean III boat, and taken on a stretcher to an ambulance, before being transferred to the coroner. It was at that point the body was identified as that of the footballer.

Remotely operated Vehicles (ROVs) were used in "challenging conditions" to pull the body out of the water "in as dignified a way as possible" the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said on Wednesday night.

The body of pilot David Ibbotson has not been found. Credit: PA

Cardiff City previously said in a statement: "We offer our most heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the family of Emiliano.

"He and David will forever remain in our thoughts."

Other tributes were paid by Arsenal player Mesut Ozil, Manchester City's Benjamin Mendy and Paris Saint-Germain footballer Kylian Mbappe.

Ozil tweeted: "No words to describe how sad this is. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family and also to the family of the pilot. #RIPsala".

The wreckage of the plane at the bottom of the English Channel. Credit: AAIB

Diego Maradona posted a tribute on Instagram.

He told how many had kept a "light of hope" for the footballer, adding: "I send a big hug to your family and friends".

Former Nantes team-mate Gabriel Boschilia said on Instagram it had been a pleasure to play alongside Sala.

The plane carrying Sala and 59-year-old Mr Ibbotson disappeared over the English Channel on January 21 after leaving Nantes in France for Cardiff.

The plane had requested to descend before losing contact with Jersey air traffic control.

An official search operation was called off on January 24 after Guernsey’s harbour master Captain David Barker said the chances of survival after such a long period were "extremely remote".

A private ambulance carrying Emiliano Sala's body from the Geo Ocean III specialist search vessel docked in Portland. Credit: PA

The remains of the aircraft were tracked down by a team co-ordinated by ocean scientist David Mearns, who has located some of the most elusive wrecks in the world.

Mr Mearns - known as the "Shipwreck Hunter" - and his team located the aircraft within two hours of commencing their search.

The AAIB said it expected to publish an interim report within the month.

Cardiff had signed the Argentinian striker for a club record £15 million and he was due to start training last month.