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Sports

Rescuers continue search for footballer Emiliano Sala off French coast

media A fan holds up a picture of missing Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala at a vigil in the French city of Nantes, 22 January 2019. Reuters/Stephane Mahe

British police were searching on Wednesday for football star Emiliano Sala, whose plane disappeared as it crossed the English Channel en route from France to Wales, where the football star had just signed a contract with Cardiff City.

Two days after the plane carrying Sala disappeared from radar around 20 kilometres north of the Channel island of Guernsey, it emerged that the 28-year-old Argentine striker sent a rambling message to family via WhatsApp.

“I’m on a plane that looks like it’s going to fall apart, and I’m leaving for Cardiff,” the 28-year-old said in a rambling audio message sent on WhatsApp. “I’m really scared.”

Rescuers on the British island of Guernsey, which sits off the north coast of France, found floating objects in the Channel and warned the chances of finding survivors were slim.

Mysteries around plane

Sala was on his way to Wales to play for struggling Cardiff City, with him he signed on Saturday from French Ligue 1 club Nantes for a reported fee of 17 million euros.

French civil aviation authorities confirmed the Argentine striker was on board the light single-engine Piper PA-46 Malibu aircraft that set out for the Welsh capital on Monday evening.

Sala’s father reportedly told Argentine media the WhatsApp message was authentic, and his mother said the plane belonged Cardiff chairman Mehmet Delman, who disputed the claim.

“I can say to you categorically that the plane had nothing to do with Cardiff City,” Delman said, adding the club had offered to pay for the flight but Sala had “made his own arrangements”.

“I can’t tell you who arranged the flight because I don’t know.”

British investigators said the plane was registered in the United States but were unable to confirm the identity of the pilot, who was the only other person in the plane

The pilot had requested to lower the plane’s altitude shortly before air traffic controllers in the neighbouring island of Jersey lost contact.

Fans hold vigils

Fans, supporters and teammates in Argentina, Britain and France expressed shock and held vigils for Sala.

The struggling Premier League club’s executive director said the club’s staff were all “very shocked” at Sala’s disappearance.

“We continue to pray for positive news,” he said.

Nantes, where Sala played since 2015, postponed their French Cup tie against Entente Sannois Saint-Gratien on Wednesday until Sunday.

Hundreds of fans in the western French city gathered for a vigil on Tuesday evening.

“I still have hope,” Nantes president Waldemar Kita said in a tweet. “He is a fighter.”

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