An Argentinian soccer player who had just signed with an English Premier League club was on a plane which went missing over the English Channel on Monday evening, French aviation officials told CNN.
Emiliano Sala, 28, signed for Cardiff City for a reported £15 million ($19.3 million) from French club Nantes on Saturday. The striker was returning to his new club after saying farewell to his former teammates in France.
The plane, a single turbine Piper Malibu, was flying to Cardiff from Nantes in northern France when it disappeared from radar near the Channel Islands just before 8:30 p.m. local time (3:30 p.m ET) Monday.
Sala’s name was on the list of passengers, Frederic Solano of France’s Directorate General for Civil Aviation, told CNN.
According to Guernsey police, 1,155 square miles had been searched as of 15.30 p.m local time (10.30 a.m ET).
Police added that any decision whether to search overnight would be taken at sunset.
“There was no distress call, it was simply lost from radar and from communications,” Captain David Barker, harbormaster for the state of Guernsey, told reporters.
“It is possible that the aircraft has diverted somewhere else but we are continuing a search if in the unfortunate event it has actually ditched into the sea.
“The weather conditions are better now but the sea water is not very warm. I’m imagining that people in a light aircraft wouldn’t be wearing particularly warm clothing and so it is concerning because if they’re in the water their chances of surviving are diminishing all the time.”
Cardiff City, which paid a club record fee for Sala, said Tuesday it would “continue to pray for positive news.”
“We were very shocked upon hearing the news that the plane had gone missing,” a statement from Cardiff City CEO Ken Choo read on the club’s website.
“We expected Emiliano to arrive last night into Cardiff and today was due to be his first day with the team.
“Our owner, Tan Sri Vincent Tan, and chairman, Mehmet Dalman, are all very distressed about the situation.
“We made the decision first thing this morning to call off training with the thoughts of the squad, management staff and the entire club with Emiliano and the pilot.
“All of us at Cardiff City FC would like to thank our fans, and the entire footballing family for their support at this difficult time. We continue to pray for positive news.”
Sala, who agreed a three-year deal with the Welsh club on Saturday, had scored 12 league goals for Nantes this season. Cardiff is in the Premier League’s relegation zone and has scored just 19 goals in 23 league games.
In his most recent tweet on Monday, just hours before he was due to fly, Sala posted a photo of himself with the Nantes FC team and the caption: “the last one, goodbye.”
“My thoughts are with his friends, his family. I still have hope, he is a fighter,” Nantes chairman Waldemar Kita said in a statement on the French club’s website.
“It is not over, he might still be somewhere. Waiting for news we hope to be positive, we are very touched by all the support we have received since this morning.”
The club has also encouraged supporters to bring yellow tulips and gather at the Place Royale in Nantes at 1.30p ET to show their support for Sala.
France’s Football Federation confirmed on its website that it had postponed Nantes’ French Cup game scheduled for Wednesday.
A team of lifeboats and helicopters from Guernsey and the UK, and a helicopter from Cherbourg in France, were searching on Tuesday for the plane, which went missing about 15 miles (24 kilometers) off the island of Alderney.
The search was suspended in the early hours of Tuesday morning due to strong winds, worsening sea conditions and reduced visibility, said police, before resuming again at 8 a.m. local time.
“At that time (of the disappearance) there were some showers around, but nothing too intense. Wind speeds were not too bad — average speeds were around 15 to 20 miles per hour,” Met Office meteorologist Mark Wilson told the UK’s Press Association.
The plane was flying at 5,000 feet, police said. But on passing Guernsey it requested descent, and air traffic control lost contact while it was flying at 2,300 feet.
Sala scored 42 goals for Nantes since joining from Bordeaux in 2015. Only two players have scored more goals than Sala in France’s top flight this season — Kylian Mbappe (14) and Nicolas Pepe (13).
The Argentinian would have likely been available to make his debut for Cardiff in next Tuesday’s Premier League match at Arsenal.