Emiliano Sala (left) was heading to his new club, Cardiff City, on board a plane being flown by David Ibbotson

Sala pilot David Ibbotson ‘not qualified to fly at night’

The pilot of the plane which crashed into the English Channel with Emiliano Sala on board, was not qualified to fly at night, BBC Wales understands.

David Ibbotson is thought to have been colour-blind, and his licence restricted him to flying in daytime hours only.

Footballer Sala, 28, died when the plane carrying him from Nantes to Cardiff crashed late on 21 January.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it could not comment.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said licensing “continues to be a focus” of its investigations.

Regulatory authorities have confirmed that Mr Ibbotson, from Crowle, North Lincolnshire, did not hold a “night rating” on his UK private pilot’s licence, the BBC understands.

His UK licence was mirrored by a US pilot’s licence – enabling him to fly the US-registered Piper Malibu in Europe.

The public record of his Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) licence states Mr Ibbotson “must have available glasses for near vision” and that “all limitations and restrictions on the United Kingdom pilot licence apply”.

There is no publicly available record of UK pilot licences, which are held by the CAA.

But sources have told BBC Wales that Mr Ibbotson’s licence restricted him to “flights by day only”.

Radar track map
The final radar track record – given in the AAIB’s interim report

An aviation source told BBC Wales that the ability to be able to differentiate between green and red lights is “key” to flying in the dark.

“Anything that’s on the UK licence applies to the US licence as well, so he couldn’t do anything more than the UK licence allows.

“Flying outside the restrictions of your licence is illegal and that’s likely to affect the insurance cover for the flight.”

European aviation rules define night as “the time from half an hour after sunset until half an hour before sunrise”.

Flight plans seen by BBC Wales indicate the flight scheduled to take Argentine player Sala for his first training session with Cardiff City had been due to leave Nantes airport at 09:00 local time on 21 January.

But the flight was postponed until 19:00, at the request of Sala, to allow him to spend the day saying goodbye to his Nantes teammates.

By the time Mr Ibbotson taxied a Piper Malibu plane on to the runway ready for take-off shortly after 19:00, it would have been around an hour and 10 minutes since sunset.

Air accident investigators' photo showing the rear left side of the fuselage
Air accident investigators’ photo showing the rear left side of the fuselage on the seabed

Speculation about the legality of the flight has so far centred around the question of whether it complied with restrictions concerning private pilots flying passengers in Europe in a US-registered aircraft.

As a private pilot, 59-year-old Mr Ibbotson was not allowed to carry passengers for remuneration or financial reward.

A preliminary report from the AIIB, released in February, stated he could only fly passengers on a cost-share basis.

As the aircraft was US-registered, pilot and passenger must have a “common purpose” for making the journey, and the pilot must dictate when a flight leaves.

The report adds that the flight “must not be made for the purpose of merely transporting the passenger”.

Piper Malibu aircraft, N264DB, at Nantes before the fatal flight
Piper Malibu aircraft, N264DB, at Nantes before the fatal flight

In an interview in February, football agent Willie McKay, who commissioned the flight, told the BBC that he and his family paid for the flight.

He was not involved, he said, in selecting the plane or the pilot and it was not a cost-share arrangement.

The plane disappeared off radar north of Guernsey in the Channel Islands at 20:16.

Sala’s body was recovered from the wreckage of the plane in early February but Mr Ibbotson’s body has not been found.

Sala posing with a Cardiff City shirt on 20 January
Sala posing with a Cardiff City shirt on 20 January, the day before the fatal flight

The European Aviation Safety Agency (Easa) states that to obtain a night rating, a pilot must undergo five hours of theory and five hours of flight training.

In their preliminary report, the AAIB said that because Mr Ibbotson’s pilot licence and log book had been lost in the crash, it had not yet been able to establish what ratings he held or how many hours he had flown recently – although it was known he had completed approximately 3,700 flying hours.

Investigators would normally look to establish how many hours a pilot had flown in the last 28 and 90 days before a crash.

The AAIB is expected to publish its full report into the tragedy early in 2020.

Emiliano Sala: Cardiff footballer’s funeral taking place”:

Sala’s father Horacio was seen crying at the vigil for his son

Mourners are paying their final respects to Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala in his native Argentina.

The 28-year-old died when the plane he was in with pilot David Ibbotson crashed in the English Channel en route from Nantes to Cardiff on 21 January.

A wake is being held at the club Sala played for as a youth in his hometown of Progreso before the funeral starts later on Saturday.

Among those in attendance is Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock

“I would like to find a responsible person…someone who says to me: ‘this happened’; but, well, it seems this was just an accident,” said Sala’s aunt Mirta Taffarel.

Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock: “Sala was my player”

Sala was killed when a single-engine light aircraft, flown by pilot Mr Ibbotson, crashed near Alderney just two days after,

His body, which was recovered from the wreckage following a privately-funded search last week was repatriated to Argentina on Friday.

It was then driven from Buenos Aires to the Sante Fe province, where Sala grew up.

Mourners applauded in tribute as the footballer’s coffin was carried in his hometown of Progreso

Outside the wake, fans draped a banner reading ‘Emi, nunca caminaras solo’ or ‘Emi, You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

“It’s as if he was a member of my family,” said a sobbing Lucia Torres, who lives nearby.

“It’s something I can’t understand nor accept because it hurts so much. The town has been in darkness since 21 January.”

SNTV

Emiliano Sala is known affectionately as Emi in his hometown

GUSTAVO GARELLO/GETTY IMAGES

Sala’s aunt Mirta Taffarel as she left the wake on Saturday morning

“He represented a lot for us,” said Daniel Ribero, president of Sala’s boyhood club San Martin de Progreso.

“We’re a small village and Emi was a celebrity, the only player to turn professional.”

Ahead of the service, the club posted a message on social media saying: “We are waiting for you … like the first day you left but this time to stay with us forever. Eternally in our hearts.”

GETTY IMAGES

Daniel Ribero, president of Sala’s boyhood club San Martin de Progreso, said the footballer was a “celebrity” in the town

The wake got under way at the sports hall in San Martin de Progreso at 07:00 local time (10:00 GMT), and the funeral started at 14:00 (17:00 GMT).

As well as Cardiff’s delegation of Warnock and chief executive Ken Choo, Sala’s former club FC Nantes has been represented by defender Nicolas Pallois and its general secretary.

Warnock said: “He’s my player. He signed for me I think he was going to be very instrumental in what we were looking to do and I feel it’s the only good thing you can do.

“Family puts it in perspective. Family is so important, everything here today has shown how important it is…it seems like the whole village has got together.”

Mr Choo added: “We feel very sad and the whole club feels very sad.”

“Today I think it’s good for the family to have some closure.”

Sala’s mother Mercedes and sister Romina, who travelled to Europe after his disappearance, have returned to Progreso.

GETTY IMAGES

Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock travelled to Argentina for the funeral

JUAN MABROMATA/AFP

Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock is due to attend the funeral on Saturday

His father Horacio also attended the funeral.

Meanwhile, a campaign to raise funds to find the body of Mr Ibbotson has reached £240,000.

The family of the 59-year-old, who is feared dead, are hoping to raise £300,000.

Emiliano Sala’s funeral to take place in hometown in Argentina

The funeral of Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala will take place in his native Argentina on Saturday.

The 28-year-old died when the plane he was in with pilot David Ibbotson crashed in the English Channel en route from Nantes to Cardiff on 21 January.

His funeral will take place in his hometown of Progreso and a wake will also be held at the club Sala played for as a youth.

Among those due to attend is Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock

GETTY IMAGES/DAVID IBBOTSON

Emiliano Sala (left) was on board a plane being flown by pilot David Ibbotson

Sala was killed when a single-engine light aircraft, flown by pilot Mr Ibbotson, crashed near Alderney just two days after he became Cardiff City’s record transfer,

His body, which was recovered from the wreckage following a privately-funded search last week, was repatriated in Argentina on Friday.

It was then driven from Buenos Aires to the Sante Fe province, where Sala grew up.

Emiliano Sala: Search for footballer and pilot called off

Emiliano Sala: £220,000 raised for private search Emiliano Sala: £220,000 raised for private search

Ahead of the service, boyhood club San Martin de Progreso posted a message on social media saying: “We are waiting for you … like the first day you left but this time to stay with us forever.

“Eternally in our hearts.”

San Martin de Progreso club entrance
GETTY IMAGES / AFP

Sala played football at San Martin de Progreso until he was 15

As well as Cardiff’s delegation of Warnock and chief executive Ken Choo, Sala’s former club FC Nantes will be represented by defender Nicolas Pallois and its general secretary.

Sala’s mother Mercedes and sister Romina, who travelled to Europe after his disappearance, have already rejoined the footballer’s dad Horacio back in Argentina.

Meanwhile, a campaign to raise funds to find the body of Mr Ibbotson has reached £240,000

The family of the 59-year-old, who is feared dead, are hoping to raise £300,000.

Emiliano Sala search team recover body from plane wreckage

Emiliano Sala search team recover body from plane wreckage

A body has been recovered from the wreckage of the plane which crashed with Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson on board.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch said specialist contractors joined the operation in “challenging conditions”.

It was carried out in “as dignified a way as possible” and the men’s families were kept updated throughout, it said.

Emiliano Sala search team recover body from plane wreckage
It is not yet known whose body was recovered from the plane wreckage

The wreckage of the plane, which vanished two weeks ago over the English Channel, was found off Guernsey.

The Geo Ocean III, the boat carrying the body, arrived at Portland Port in Dorset on Thursday morning as it is the nearest part of the British mainland to where the plane was located.

Dorset Police said: “The arrival of the body into Dorset has been reported to the coroner for Dorset.

“The coroner will investigate the circumstances of this death supported by Dorset Police. A post-mortem examination will be held in due course.”

No formal identification has taken place, but the force said both families had been updated.

Emiliano Sala and David Ibbotson
Emiliano Sala (left) was on board a plane being flown by pilot David Ibbotson

The Piper Malibu N264DB was en route from France to Cardiff, after the 28-year-old Argentine striker made a quick trip back to his former club Nantes two days after his £15m transfer to Cardiff was announced.

Mr Ibbotson, 59, from Crowle, North Lincolnshire, was at the controls when the flight lost contact with air traffic controllers on 21 January.

An official search was called off on 24 January after Guernsey’s harbour master said the chances of survival were “extremely remote”.

But an online appeal started by Sala’s agent raised £324,000 (371,000 euros) for a private search led by marine scientist and oceanographer David Mearns.

Working jointly with the AAIB, his ship and the Geo Ocean III, began combing a four square mile area of the English Channel, 24 nautical miles north of Guernsey, to make best use of the available sensors.

Mr Mearns said the plane was identified by sonar, before a submersible with cameras was sent underwater to confirm this.

Footballers and fans pay tribute to Emiliano Sala at Cardiff City Stadium
A minute’s silence was held for Sala and Mr Ibbotson ahead of Cardiff’s home game against Bournemouth
Fans place flowers and T-shirts with messages in tribute of Emiliano Sala before Cardiff's Premier League match against Bournemouth at the Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday
Cardiff fans left a sea of flowers outside the Cardiff City Stadium in tribute to Emiliano Sala

The AAIB used a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) to aid the search, with no divers involved.

The body was moved first, and separately from the wreckage, to maximise the chances of it being successfully brought to the surface.

It said efforts to recover the crashed plane as a whole proved unsuccessful, before being abandoned due to poor weather.

“The weather forecast is poor for the foreseeable future and so the difficult decision was taken to bring the overall operation to a close,” the AAIB said in a statement.

However, the AAIB said video footage captured by the ROV would provide “valuable evidence” for its safety investigation.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Sala’s former club, French Ligue 1 side Nantes, has demanded Cardiff City pay his £15m transfer fee.

Sala, 28, was Cardiff’s record signing but never played for the club.

The fee was due to be paid over three years but Cardiff have withheld the first scheduled payment until they are satisfied with the documentation.

A supporter stands in front of flowers placed in front of a giant portrait of Emilianio Sala outside La Beaujoire stadium before Tuesday's French Cup match between FC Nantes and Toulouse FC
Supporters in Nantes have also been paying tribute to Sala
Emiliano Sala's family view search area off Guernsey

Emiliano Sala’s family view search area off Guernsey

The family of missing Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala are planning an underwater search.

Family spokesman David Mearns told a press conference that a private search of the English Channel, paid for by fundraisers, also included fishing boats and other vessels.

Emiliano Sala (left) was on board a plane being flown by pilot David Ibbotson (right
Emiliano Sala (left) was on board a plane being flown by pilot David Ibbotson (right

The underwater search is expected to begin on Sunday.

Meanwhile the family has been taken on a plane to see the area that rescuers have been searching.

They left Guernsey Airport at about 09:30 GMT on a chartered flight with harbourmaster David Barker.

Sala’s sister Romina and mother Mercedes arrived on the island on Sunday and a family spokesman said they were struggling for answers.

The family travelled on a twin-engine Dornier 228-212 plane which flew from Guernsey and circled the island of Alderney.

The plane leaving the airport
The family’s flight leaving Guernsey Airport

Mr Mearns told a press conference on Monday: “We would like to thank all the people and all the companies that have offered their help,” he said.

“We have been planning an underwater search as a next phase… there are still boats on the water… and people are still looking.”

Speaking of Sala and the football community’s reaction, Mr Mearns added: “He’s a really friendly person that people loved – from both clubs and any other clubs, and that’s where you see the breath of the football community coming together in an extraordinarily short period of time to raise this type of money.

“So, obviously the family appreciate that, but their minds have been in a different place this week.”

Burhou Island near Alderney
The family was shown the search area which included Burhou Island near Alderney

An official search for 28-year-old Sala and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, of Crowle, Lincolnshire, was called off on Thursday, with Mr Barker saying the chance of them being alive was “extremely remote”.

But, after a plea from his sister not to give up, more than £290,000 was raised for a private search to continue – which is being led by Mr Mearns, said to be a renowned shipwreck hunter.

High-profile donors to the GoFundMe page include France and PSG forward Kylian Mbappe, former West Ham midfielder Dimitri Payet and Leicester City winger Demarai Gray.

More than 4,000 people have donated to the page.

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Ms Sala said of her brother: “He’s a fighter, he started his football career from very little… He’s a very humble, family man.

“He was always joking, he was very keen to stay with the family all the time and we know he’s here somewhere and we are here to bring him back”.

Neil Warnock said he remembered Mr Ibbotson as a "fabulous pilot"
Neil Warnock said he remembered Mr Ibbotson as a “fabulous pilot”

Speaking for the first time since Sala disappeared, Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock said he could understand Sala’s family’s stance on keeping the search going.

“If it was my kid I’d want everybody looking forever,”he said at a press conference  on Monday.

“It’s by far the most difficult week in my career. Even now I can’t get my head round the situation,” he said.

“When I look at Romina and the family, it’s such a difficult time. I keep looking at my own children and thinking what I would be doing now, as well.”

Mr Warnock added he believed he had also been flown by Mr Ibbotson.

“I’d been on a couple of planes like that, but I think the ones I’d be on might have had two engines.

“But I’d been over the top to Nantes a couple of times, and I do think I had that pilot – who I thought was a fabulous pilot.

“So I just can’t comprehend it.”

Map showing location of Alderney and lighthouse
Emiliano Sala was on board a plane bound for Cardiff from Nantes when it disappeared from radar

Argentine striker Sala signed for the Bluebirds from Nantes on Saturday, 19 January and was flying back to Wales from France when the plane disappeared from radar last Monday evening.

At 19:15 GMT, Mr Ibbotson made a request to descend before losing contact with Jersey air traffic control.

Mr Mearns said they had travelled to Guernsey to be near where the plane was last located and to find out about the investigation and what happens next.

He said: “This is a family that has come from Argentina with this huge shock out of nowhere and is struggling with very, very few answers about an unexplained loss.”

He added the family “still have some hope”, saying: “They’re looking at this as a missing person, a missing plane and until they are satisfied, that’s the mode that we are in.”

Emiliano Sala's family arriving at Guernsey Airport
Sala’s family arrived at Guernsey Airport on Sunday
Emiliano Sala's sister Romina at Cardiff City Stadium
Romina Sala visited Cardiff last week and said she believes both Emiliano and the pilot are alive

Mr Mearns said the private search would entail “more investigative technical searches underwater” at some point.

The family have also thanked donors for their “exceptional generosity” after money was raised to pay for a private search.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has begun an investigation which will look at “all operational aspects,” including licensing and flight plans.

The PA-46-310P Malibu aircraft
The PA-46-310P Malibu aircraft Sala and Mr Ibbotson were on board
Tributes
Tributes have been left outside the Cardiff City Stadium
Emiliano Sala: Julien Laurens on 'warrior spirit' of Argentine striker

Emiliano Sala: Agent who booked Cardiff City striker’s flight reveals text messages

Football agent Willie McKay says he arranged the flight that missing Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala took from Nantes, but was not involved in selecting the plane or pilot.

The search for Argentine Sala, 28, and 59-year-old pilot David Ibbotson was called off on Thursday.

Their plane disappeared, from radar as they flew over the English Channel on their way to Cardiff on Monday night.

McKay has revealed text messages with Sala discussing flight arrangements.

Emiliano Sala: Agent who booked Cardiff City striker's flight reveals text messages
Emiliano Sala’s sister made an emotional plea for the search for her brother to resume

One of McKay’s sons, Mark, was the agent acting for Nantes in the £15m transfer that made Sala Cardiff’s record signing earlier in January.

McKay told the BBC he had arranged the flight through David Henderson – an experienced pilot who had flown him and many of his players “all over Europe on countless occasions”.

It is not known how the job of flying Sala ended up being passed to Ibbotson.

The Civil Aviation Authority is to examine whether Ibbotson was operating with a private or commercial licence.

Henderson has not so far commented on what happened.

In the text exchange released to the BBC by McKay, his other son, Jack – who is a Cardiff player – offers to arrange the private flight for free so Sala could return to Nantes to pick up his belongings and say goodbye to former team-mates at the Ligue 1 club.

McKay said both Mark and Jack had a conversation with Sala about the difficulties of flying to the French city by commercial airline.

He also says a Cardiff player liaison official knew of the arrangements that were made. The BBC has approached the Premier League club for comment.

“With regards to the booking of the flight we contacted Mr David Henderson, who has flown us and many of our players all over Europe on countless occasions,” McKay said.

In a 2015 interview with the BBC, Mr Henderson spoke about his life as an experienced light aircraft pilot.

McKay added: “We had no involvement in selecting a plane or a pilot and we also wish to make clear again we do own the plane that Emiliano flew on.”

The Times newspaper has apologised to McKay for incorrectly stating that he owned the plane.

The agent also said he has met Sala’s friends and family to “give them an understanding of how Emiliano came to be on that plane”.

“The tragic events that have unfolded have shocked us all,” he added.

Emiliano Sala: Julien Laurens on 'warrior spirit' of Argentine striker
Emiliano Sala: Julien Laurens on ‘warrior spirit’ of Argentine striker

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has started an investigation

which will look at “all operational aspects,” including licensing and flight plans.

Similarly the Civil Aviation Authority is to examine whether the pilot was operating with a private or commercial licence.

Cardiff have started an internal inquiry to try to establish the events leading up to the flight, but a senior source has denied reports the club is considering a multi-million pound negligence lawsuit over the incident.

The source claimed senior club officials only became aware a private flight had been arranged after they were alerted by the club’s player liaison officer that Sala had failed to arrive at Cardiff airport as planned on Monday.

They also made the point that the club does not have a private jet for players to use and therefore they could not be expected to have arranged his travel to and from Nantes.

Argentina’s president has joined calls from Sala’s family and many fellow footballers for the search to resume.

Cardiff’s players will wear yellow daffodils for Tuesday’s Premier League fixture at Arsenal to honour Sala.

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Full text message exchange

These messages between Jack McKay and Sala were translated from French.

Friday, 18 January

7:43pm – Jack McKay: “My dad has told me that you are going home tomorrow. He could organise a plane to take you direct to Nantes and to come back on Monday, at a time that suits you, so you can get to training on Tuesday.”

7:51pm – Emiliano Sala: “Ah that is great. I was just in the middle of checking if there are some flights to get to Nantes tomorrow.”

7:56pm – McKay: “He said he could organise a plane that would go direct to Nantes.”

7:56pm – Sala: “How much will it cost?”

7:56pm – McKay: “Nothing. He said if you help me to score goals it’s nothing.”

7:59pm – Sala: “Hahaha with pleasure.”

8:00pm – Sala: “We are going to score lots of goals.”

8:01pm – Sala: “I want to leave tomorrow for Nantes at around 11am and come back on Monday night around 9pm to Cardiff if that is possible.”

8:05pm – McKay: “Good. I’ll send a message when that’s sorted.”

Sunday, 20 January

5:00pm – McKay: “Hi there is it possible you could come back at seven in the evening on Monday night? Just because the pilot has to get home in the north after he gets to Cardiff.”

5:01pm – Sala: “Hi, Half past seven would be possible.”

5:03pm – McKay: “Yes that’s good.”

5:05pm – Sala: “[PICTURE OF LUGGAGE] Can you ask if I can bring this on the plane?”

5:06pm – McKay: “Good yeah.”

5:07pm – Sala: “But is that going to be OK for the plane?”

McKay: “Yes there is space on the plane for your luggage.”

5:12pm – Sala: “OK.”

Monday, 21 January

4:16pm – McKay: “I’m going to call in a moment.”

4.23pm – McKay: “He said that it is the same company.”

4.27pm – Sala: “OK thanks.”

Emiliano Sala (left) was on board a plane being flown by pilot David Ibbotson (right

Emiliano Sala: £220,000 raised for private search

More than £220,000 has been raised to fund a private search for missing Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala.

The search for Argentine Sala, 28, and 59-year-old pilot David Ibbotson was called off on Thursday.

Their plane disappeared, from radar as they flew over the English Channel on their way to Cardiff on Monday night.

A former Guernsey harbourmaster said the search was “like looking for a needle in a haystack, when you don’t even know where the haystack is”.

Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri has joined calls by Sala’s family for the search to resume

Footballers including Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan are among 2,448 people who have contributed to donations for the private search on a GoFundMe page.

Other contributors include Nantes manager Vahid Halilhodzic, Leicester City winger Demarai Gray, Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Adrien Rabiot and Bayern Munich’s Corentin Tolisso.

Emiliano Sala: Search for footballer and pilot called off

Emiliano Sala: Cardiff City FC player on missing plane

Organisers of the page, Paris-based football agency Sport Cover, hope to raise a total of €300,000 (£260,000).

Sport Cover’s website lists Sala as a client.

Meanwhile, a petition launched in France to have the search resumed has now gathered more than 80,000 signatures.

Sala’s sister Romina has also said she is “convinced Emiliano and the pilot are alive somewhere in the channel”.

“We’re asking please don’t stop with this effort,” she said, during a visit to Cardiff.

Among those joining calls for the search to continue are Barcelona forward Lionel Messi .

Three planes and five helicopters racked up 80 hours combined flying time looking for the plane, working alongside two lifeboats and other passing ships.

Cardiff City tributes
Cardiff City fans have been leaving floral tributes outside the team’s stadium

Guernsey’s harbourmaster Captain David Barker has said the decision to call to call off the search was a “difficult” one, but the chances of survival were “extremely remote” and he was “absolutely confident” no more could have been done.

Peter Gill, the island’s former harbour master, said: “It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack when you don’t even know where the haystack is.

“You don’t know which road it’s in, you don’t know which parish it’s in, you don’t even know which county it’s in.”

He added that the sea off Alderney, where the plane lost contact, was anywhere between 50m (164m) to 140m (460ft) deep, with currents measuring up to five knots (6mph).

“It’s very cold and it’s also quite challenging in terms of currents and they are very, very seldom slack. The actual chance of getting down and finding something is very, very difficult indeed,” he said.

But diver Richard Keen, who often looks for shipwrecks in the Channel Islands said he thought there was a “fairly good chance of finding the aircraft”.

“All other aircraft which have ditched around Guernsey were found very quickly by crab pot fishermen. When they’re lifting their pots, they drag their pots across the seabed, they tangle in the aircraft,” he said.

“There’s about a 50% chance of finding it in the next three months.”

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has begun an investigation which will look at “all operational aspects,” including licensing and flight plans.

The Piper PA-46 Malibu disappeared over the English Channel with Cardiff City’s new signing and Mr Ibbotson on board.

Mr Ibbotson of Crowle, Lincolnshire, held a private pilot’s licence and passed a medical exam as recently as November, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.

Sala signed for the Bluebirds from Nantes on Saturday and was flying back to Wales from Nantes when the plane disappeared from radar.

At 19:15 GMT, Mr Ibbotson made a request to descend before losing contact with Jersey air traffic control.

Emiliano Sala (left) was on board a plane being flown by pilot David Ibbotson (right
Emiliano Sala was on board a plane bound for Cardiff from Nantes when it disappeared
Emiliano Sala: Julien Laurens on 'warrior spirit' of Argentine striker

Emiliano Sala: Search for footballer and pilot called off

The search for missing footballer Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson has been called off after rescuers failed to find their plane.

The voice message Emiliano Sala sent on missing plane

 Cardiff City’s Argentine striker, 28, and Mr Ibbotson, from Crowle, Lincolnshire, were on the aircraft that disappeared from radar, After three days of scouring the English Channel, authorities made the decision to abandon the search.

But Sala’s sister Romina pleaded with rescuers to keep looking for him.

Guernsey Police tweeted at 15:15 GMT to say rescuers were “no longer actively searching” for the plane.

Harbourmaster Capt David Barker said the chances of survival were “extremely remote”.

“We reviewed all the information available to us, as well as knowing what emergency equipment was on board, and have taken the difficult decision to end the search,” he added.

Romina Sala pleads with rescue teams not to give up the search
Map showing location of Alderney and lighthouse
Emiliano Sala was on board a plane bound for Cardiff from Nantes when it disappeared from radar

He said: “I understand Emiliano Sala’s family are not content with the decision to stop the search and I fully understand that.

“I’m absolutely confident that we couldn’t have done any more.”

As the news was announced, Sala’s sister Romina pleaded with the authorities to keep searching, saying: “I know in my heart Emiliano is still alive.”

She said: “Please, please, please don’t stop the search. We understand the effort but please don’t stop the search.

“For us, they are still alive. It is difficult to express our feelings at the moment because everything is really hard.

Emiliano Sala and David Ibbotson
Emiliano Sala (left) was on board the plane being flown by pilot David Ibbotson

“Emiliano is a fighter. I’m asking you please, don’t stop looking for them. It’s been three days and I’ve still got hope that they’re alive.

“It’s terrible, it’s desperate not knowing anything. We don’t have certainty of anything.”

His former club FC Nantes also tweeted appealing to the police to continue the search.

Responding to the search being called off, Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan said: “We were looking forward to providing Emiliano with the next step in his life and career.

A banner has been put up at the training ground in Nantes
A banner has been put up at his former club’s training ground in Nantes

“Those who met Emiliano described a good-natured and humble young man who was eager to impress in the Premier League.

“The response from the football community has been truly touching and we place on record our sincere thanks to those who have sent messages of support.

“We also thank everyone involved with the search and rescue operation, and continue to pray for Emiliano, David Ibbotson and their families.”

A fan lays flowers by the statue of Cardiff City footballer Frederick Charles Keenor outside Cardiff City Stadium
Flowers and tributes have been left outside Cardiff City Stadium

Capt Barker said the depth of the sea where the plane had last contact was about 100m and it would remain a missing persons case for the police.

“Despite best efforts of air and search assets from the Channel Islands, UK and France… we have been unable to find any trace of the aircraft, the pilot or the passenger,” he added.

Sala became Cardiff City’s record signing on Saturday, joining from Ligue 1 club Nantes for a fee of £15m.

He had returned to the French city to say a final farewell to his former teammates before taking the plane back to the Welsh capital.

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The single-engine plane carrying Sala and Mr Ibbotson left Nantes, north-west France, at 19:15 on Monday and had been flying at 5,000ft (1,500m) over the Channel Islands when it disappeared off radar near the Casquets lighthouse, near to Alderney.

It lost contact while at 2,300ft (700m) and disappeared off radar near the Casquets lighthouse, infamous among mariners as the site of many shipwrecks, eight miles (13km) north-west of Alderney.

Sala reportedly sent a WhatsApp voice message before the flight. Sounding conversational and jokey, he said he was “so scared” and: “I’m on a plane that seems like it is breaking apart.”

Rescue crews have searched about 1,700 square miles of land and sea in the Channel Islands in the past three days, covering Burhou, the Casquets, Alderney, the north coast of the Cherbourg Peninsula, north coast of Jersey and Sark.

The PA-46-310P Malibu aircraft
The PA-46-310P Malibu aircraft Sala and Mr Ibbotson were on board