Emiliano Sala: Family's tribute to Cardiff City footballer

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The family of Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala has paid tribute to him after police confirmed it was his body which was removed from a crashed plane.

Argentine-born Sala, 28, was travelling to Cardiff in a light aircraft piloted by David Ibbotson, which went missing over the English Channel on 21 January.

The club has offered to pay for Sala’s body to be repatriated to Argentina.

Mr Ibbotson’s body has not been found and Sala’s family hopes authorities “will do their best” to find him.

In a statement, they 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.

“On this Friday morning, our thoughts go to David Ibbotson and his family, hoping that the authorities will do their best to find him.”

In a post on Instagram, Sala’s sister Romina said: “Your soul in my soul, it will shine forever thus illuminating the time of my existence. I love you, tito.”

Sala completed his transfer to Premier League side Cardiff from French club Nantes – for a club record £15m – just two days before the 21 January crash.

He was returning to the Welsh capital after flying back to France to say goodbye to his former teammates.

Mr Ibbotson, 59, from Crowle, North Lincolnshire, was at the controls of the Piper Malibu N264DB when the flight lost contact with air traffic controllers near Guernsey.

Shortly after Dorset Police confirmed identification on Thursday night, Cardiff City issued a statement saying: “We offer our most heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the family of Emiliano.

“He and David will forever remain in our thoughts.”

Some of the club’s players reacted on Twitter.

Full back Joe Bennett wrote “RIP Emiliano”, while centre-half Sol Bamba posted a black-and-white image of the teammate he never got to play alongside.

Sala’s former club, Nantes said in a statement: “This news puts an end to an endless and unsustainable wait. Emiliano will forever be part of the legends that have written the great story of FC Nantes.”

It will also retire the number nine shirt – which he wore – in his memory

The French football league announced that a minute’s applause will be held at all Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 games this weekend in memory of Sala.

Stars from the wider footballing world also paid tribute including Wales star Gareth Bale and France striker Kylian Mbappe.

Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger wrote: “Heartbreaking to hear the news about Emiliano Sala. Rest in peace! Thoughts go out to the family and friends of Emiliano and the pilot.”

And Arsenal’s Mesut 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.”

Football governing bodies Fifa, Uefa and the Football Association of Wales, along with Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri all paid tribute to Sala.

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 Air Accidents Investigation Branch (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, 67m (220ft) below the surface on Sunday, before a submersible with cameras was sent underwater to confirm this.

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

The body was moved first on Wednesday, 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.

Mr Mearns told BBC Radio Wales finding Mr Ibbotson’s body would be difficult.

“I’ve been involved in operations when people were lost and the bodies were found days and weeks after, not far from where they were lost,” he said.

“But this is a pretty dynamic place. It’s got fairly strong currents, it’s not that deep water, you’ve got a lot of fishing activity, a lot of scallop dredgers moving in and out of the location.

“You cannot expect that the body is going to be in that location for an extended period of time.”

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

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

The AAIB 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.

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