Police on Wednesday suspended the operation to find the aircraft, which disappeared over the English Channel on Monday, saying that a decision on whether to resume the search would be made in the morning. The small private plane was taking Sala from Nantes in northern France to Cardiff in Wales, the home of his new club, Cardiff City.
“After an intensive search using multiple aircraft and one lifeboat over the last nine hours, we have found no trace of the missing plane,” Guernsey Police tweeted. “A decision about whether to recommence will be taken early tomorrow morning,” the statement added.
At a press conference in Argentina, a family spokesperson told reporters that it is “essential the search continues” and that the family wanted rescuers to “use all means possible” to find out what happened.
The search for the single-engine Piper Malibu plane, which disappeared from radar near the Channel Islands just before 8:30 p.m. local time (3:30 p.m. ET) Monday, resumed Wednesday.
On Wednesday Channel Islands Air Search spokeswoman Alison Robins said that the search had become a “recovery operation” and police confirmed the name of the pilot as David Ibbotson. Sala, who had signed for Cardiff City on Saturday, was the only passenger. He had been in Nantes to say goodbye to his former team-mates there.
Earlier police tweeted that over 280 square miles were covered using aircraft from the Channel Islands, France and the UK in an attempt to trace the aircraft.
Satellite imagery and mobile phone data was also being reviewed in an attempt to find the plane, it added.
Police also confirmed that the French navy was assisting the Guernsey coast guard with a marine surveillance plane.
Cardiff City’s record signing
Sala, 28, was on his way to begin training with Cardiff City after his reported £15 million ($19.3 million) move to the English Premier League club.
The plane had requested descent on passing Guernsey but disappeared from radar while it was flying at 2,300 feet.
Capt. David Barker, harbormaster for the state of Guernsey, told reporters Tuesday there had been no distress call, saying “it was simply lost from radar and from communications.”
A stellar season
Sala had scored 12 league goals for Nantes this season. The Argentine would have likely been available to make his debut for Cardiff, which is in the relegation zone having struggled to score goals during its return to the English top flight, in next week’s Premier League match at Arsenal.
Born in Santa Fe, Argentina, Sala established his reputation in France, scoring 42 goals for Nantes since joining from Bordeaux in 2015 and particularly impressed this season.
In his most recent tweet Monday, just before he was due to fly, Sala posted a photo of himself with the Nantes FC team and the caption: “the last one, goodbye.”
Nantes said Thursday’s training session would be open to up to 300 members of the public, while a portrait of the player has been placed in a street in the city, and would also soon be placed outside the stadium, to give well-wishers an opportunity to place flowers, candles and messages of support near it.
PSG and France forward Kylian Mbappe, World Cup-winning midfielder Andres Iniesta and Monaco manager Thierry Henry were among the current and former footballers to post messages of support on social media.