Search for missing airplane carrying Emiliano Sala called off by police: 'Chances of survival are extremely remote'

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After three days, the search for Argentine professional soccer player Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson was called off by rescue services on Thursday. The 28-year-old, who signed a deal with Cardiff City from Nantes for a club-record fee last weekend, went missing on Monday after a small passenger plane carrying the two disappeared over the English Channel with no trace. Guernsey Police released the following statement:

Despite the best efforts of air and search assets from Channel Islands, U.K. and France, which has covered an area of approximately 1,700 square miles -- with a significant amount of this searched more than once --- and having examined mobile phone data and satellite imagery, we have been unable to find any trace of the aircraft, the pilot or the passenger. 

There has been over 24 hours of continuous searching, with 80 hours combined flying time across three planes and five helicopters. Two lifeboats have also been involved, as well as assistance from various passing ships and fishing boats.

We reviewed all the information available to us, as well as knowing what emergency equipment was on board, and have taken the difficult decision to end the search.

The chances of survival at this stage are extremely remote.

...

Although we are no longer actively searching, the incident remains open and we will be broadcasting to all vessels and aircraft in the area to keep a look out for any trace of the aircraft. This will continue indefinitely.

Sala was in France bidding farewell to his former Nantes teammates and was one of two people aboard the aircraft. French and British authorities conducted a massive search for the Piper Malibu aircraft that lost radar contact off the coast of the island of Guernsey near the stormy Channel overnight. According to the BBC, Guernsey Police said there was "no trace" of the Cardiff-bound flight, before saying on Tuesday they found debris that they could not confirm was from the aircraft. According to Air Search spokeswoman Alison Robins, the efforts to locate the missing aircraft had become a recovery operation, but Guernsey Police said on Thursday the search was over and unsuccessful. 

Who is Sala?

He's a striker who had just become Cardiff City's record signing. He scored 48 goals in 130 matches for Nantes and was signed by the Welsh club to help them produce in attack and escape relegation. Here he is tweeting his goodbyes to his teammates in France before his scheduled trip to Wales to join Cardiff.

When did the plane go missing?

The aircraft went missing over Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands over the English Channel, according to the French Civil Aviation Authority. As BBC reports, the plane left Nantes, France at 7:15 p.m. local time and was flying at 5,000 feet when it contracted air traffic control requesting descent. The plane then lost contact while at 2,300 feet and disappeared off the radar.

Cardiff's first response

Ken Choo, the club's executive director and CEO released the following statement on Tuesday: 

"We were very shocked upon hearing the news that the plane had gone missing. 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."

Nantes fans holds vigil 

Nantes supporters gathered for a vigil at the Royal Palace at the heart of the French city to lay down yellow tulips in front of a fountain for Sala.

What's next?

The police has notified the family of the decision, and the search comes to end without any closure. All that's left is his memory, that of the pilot and wondering where exactly the plane and bodies are. 

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CBS Sports Writer

Roger Gonzalez is an award-winning writer based in Virginia that has covered pro soccer from Europe's top clubs to Argentina's first division. Roger started out his pro soccer writing career with Goal.com... Full Bio

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