A number of high-profile footballers and Sala’s former club, Nantes, have called for the search to be resumed following a plea from the Argentinian striker’s sister, Romina. It is believed she may travel to Guernsey to ask rescuers to restart the searching after they said on Thursday they were no longer going to actively look for the pair because they believed their chances of survival were “extremely remote”.
The UK Air Accident Investigation Branch has confirmed it will look at all operational aspects of the flight, including licensing.
The pilot, Dave Ibbotson, 59, of Crowle, Lincolnshire, held a private pilot’s licence and passed a medical exam as recently as November, according to US Federal Aviation Administration records. The Civil Aviation Authority said the aircraft was registered in the US, so fell under American regulations. US law states private pilots cannot make a profit by carrying passengers. The nature of the arrangement between Ibbotson and Sala is unclear.
Speaking in Cardiff on Thursday, Sala’s sister said: “Please don’t give up searching for my brother. In my heart I know that Emiliano is a fighter and I know he is still alive. Please do not stop.”
She said she planned to head to the Channel Islands: “The idea is to go to the search place to push forward with the search. The only I thing I want is to find my brother.”
Nantes, which sold Sala, 28, to Cardiff City, said on Twitter: “This search mustn’t stop. The club and its supporters strongly ask for the search to find [Sala] to go on, for his family and his near relatives. Together for Emi!”
A number of Sala’s former teammates also urged rescue workers to continue looking. The Nantes captain, Valentin Rongier, tweeted: “The search can not stop! Help us encourage the police to continue searching. We need everyone. Let’s fight as Emi does all the time, please.”
Several of Sala’s compatriots added their voices to the calls, with the Manchester City striker Sergio Agüero tweeting: “We don’t want to give up, we want to hold on to hope … don’t call off the search.”
Another City player, Nicolás Otamendi, said: “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.”
The single-turbine-engine Piper PA-46 Malibu left Nantes for Cardiff at 7.15pm on Monday, and after asking to descend, lost contact with Jersey air traffic control.
On Thursday, the Guernsey harbourmaster, Capt David Barker, acknowledged Sala’s family were unhappy with the decision to stop actively searching, but said he was “absolutely confident” no more could be done. He said the chances of the pair having survived were “extremely remote”.
Rescue teams had scanned about 1,700 sq miles and examined mobile phone data and satellite imagery, Barker said, but had not found any trace of the plane.
He said he was not surprised no trace of the men or plane had been found as the waters were in flood tide, with up to 12 knots of current running through the area, meaning the search zone had been growing by the hour.
Barker confirmed the final suspected position of the plane had been close to Hurd Deep, an underwater valley used as a dumping ground for radioactive waste, but said it was not possible to say if this was where the plane ended up.
Although the active search had been terminated, he said, ships and planes were still being asked to look out for any signs of the men or their plane. It remained a missing persons investigation.
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