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Body of football player Emiliano Sala found in plane wreckage

media Flowers and a photo of Emiliano Sala at a memorial shrine outside the Nantes statdium Stephane Mahe/Reuters

Police confirmed Thursday that the body recovered from the wreckage of a plane that went down in the English Channel was that of the Argentine football player Emliano Sala. The 28-year-old striker had been travelling from France to the UK to start a new career in Premier League football.

The Piper PA-46 Malibu plane lost contact with air traffic control about 20 kilometres north of the British island of Guernsey on the evening of 21 January.

It had taken off from the French city of Nantes, whose team Sala had played for 3.5 seasons, and it was headed to the Welsh capital Cardiff, where Sala had just signed to play with Cardiff City.

The formal search for the plane was called off within three days of its disappearing from the radar, and it took a campaign by Sala's family to raise funds for a private search. Donations poured in to an online campaign, including from football stars like Lionel Messi, and the family used the more than 370,000 euros raised to hire the shipwreck-hunting specialist David Mearns.

Working with air crash investigators, Mearns located the aircraft using a remotely operated underwater vehicle. Sala’s body was recovered on Wednesday and brought to the Isle of Portland, where it was formally identified in a coroner’s examination on Thursday.

Search teams have still been unable to find the body of pilot David Ibbotson, 59, the only other person on board.

Condolences from around the world

Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, offered condolences to Sala’s family, writing on twitter that "the news is so painful” and “we are with you."

"We offer our most heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the family of Emiliano," Cardiff City said in a statement. "He and David will forever remain in our thoughts."

Cardiff and Nantes are now in a legal argument over settling the still outstanding transfer payments for Sala. Sala’s 17-million euro signing was the most expensive in Cardiff City’s history.

The plane is still underwater, and crash investigators say bad weather is keeping them from recovering it. Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch said that video footage of the sunken wreckage will "provide valuable evidence for our safety investigation", and contribute to an interim report on the accident later this month.

(with wires)

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