Nantes striker Emiliano Sala took off from Nantes last night on a small tourism plane at 19:15 UK time to head to Cardiff to begin the next stage of his career, in arguably the most illustrious league in the world, the Premier League.
However, the “Piper Malibu” flight did not make it to the Welsh coast yesterday evening, disappearing off flight radars at 20:23 last night UK time.
Sala was believed to have been on the plane with one other individual and the pilot, as Guernsey police responded rapidly to the incident by sending two helicopters out to search for the Piper Malibu last night.
The search was called off after a short while owing to increasingly poor weather conditions and was ultimately fruitless.
Guernsey police have sent out a larger search party force this morning, two helicopters, two planes and one lifeboat that are currently scanning the English Channel, which is where the plane last appeared on flight radar tracking. Guernsey police claim that the plane was flying at 1,500m altitude over Guernsey and requested a descent. Jersey flight control lost contact with the plane when it was at 700m altitude.
Emiliano Sala was in Nantes one final time to say goodbye to his team-mates after his move to Cardiff City was announced over the weekend.
Nantes central defender Nicolas Pallois dropped the player off at Nantes Atlantique Airport and is understood to have been the last person not on the plane to see Sala.
The Argentinian was due in Cardiff at 9pm French time last night, but never arrived.
More follows on this developing story.
11:20 GMT: The French Civil Aviation Authority has formally confirmed that Emiliano Sala was on the missing plane. French Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Frédéric Solano claims that the Piper PA46 left Nantes airport on Monday evening at 20:15 local time: “It disappeared off of our screens 15 minutes later, when it was in British waters.”
The Piper PA46 is a tourism/business plan that has just 6 seats on it, but there were only 2 passengers on board.
Solano has added: “British search parties are underway, assisted by French resources.”
The cause of accident is not yet known. Sources have informed Ouest-France that the plane had difficulties taking off from Nantes airport, claiming that it had to attempt take-off 3 or 4 times.
Solano had the following to say on this claim: “I cannot confirm this information, and in any case, there will be an investigation like there usually is with this type of disappearance.”
15:39 GMT: Our colleagues at 20 Minutes are reporting that it is likely that this weekend’s Ligue 1 encounter between Nantes & St Étienne is set to be suspended owing to the unfolding drama here. At Nantes, this morning’s training session was rapidly cancelled, and their Coupe de France clash previously scheduled for tomorrow evening, has also been suspended.
When coach Vahid Halilhodzic discovered the news this morning, he stayed in his office for a long period of time. The Nantes training centre was in a state of absolute shock. Policemen came to the training centre to check in on everyone – at around 13:00 local time, players started to filter out of the training centre, refusing to answer the dozen journalists waiting for them outside.
Emiliano Sala travelled from Cardiff to Nantes with the same plane he subsequently left with. When he arrived in Nantes, he told team-mate Nicolas Pallois that the trip had been bumpy & he feared his safety for the journey back… French football and Nantes remain in shock.
The Ligue 1 club and their fans are organising a coming together at 18:30 local time tonight at the Place Royale in Nantes to place a yellow tulip at the foot of the fountain there, as a mark of solidarity.
Nantes manager Vahid Halilhodzic had the following to say on the matter:
“What do you want me to say? I am aghast. The situation here was already very delicate. But now, this is very difficult. We are waiting but we are not allowing ourselves to dream. We are awaiting the worst.”