Emiliano Sala: Family's tribute to Cardiff City footballer

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Media captionEmiliano Sala's sister said "I love you, tito" in a post on Instagram

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 of £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.

An online fundraiser has also been set up to find Mr Ibbotson's body, saying his family "cannot bare the thought of him being alone".

Dorset Police confirmed identification on Thursday night.

Tan Sri Vincent Tan, owner of Cardiff City, said "I wish to express my deepest heartfelt condolences to the family of Emiliano Sala for their loss.

"I am personally very sad over this incident. This fine young man would have been very happy and successful at Cardiff City where he would have made a new home and many friends."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Cardiff fans left a sea of flowers outside the Cardiff City Stadium in tribute to Emiliano Sala

He added: "Cardiff City will continue to work with the AAIB and investigators to find out how the crash happened and to assist Emiliano's family.

"We have offered to them to arrange to take Emiliano back to rest with his family in Argentina. Even though he will be there his soul will always be in our hearts. We feel a tremendous loss but the biggest loss is borne by Sala's family. "

Some of the club's players also 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.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Emiliano Sala had been a record signing for Cardiff City

Manager Neil Warnock said in his pre-match news conference on Friday he hopes Sala's family find "peace and comfort".

He also expects Southampton and Cardiff players to wear black armbands in their Premier League match at St Mary's on Saturday and a minute's silence to be observed.

Cardiff have also asked the Premier League if the team can once again wear shirts in respect of Sala and Mr Ibbotson with a yellow daffodil on them, as they did in last weekend's 2-0 win over Bournemouth.

Clubs in the EFL will also wear black armbands at matches over the weekend.

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.

Image caption Tributes have been laid on the ground outside Cardiff City Stadium

Girondins de Bordeaux, who Sala played for from 2010-15 before joining Nantes, also released a tribute to its former player.

It said: "Emi, we lack the words. We still remember your teenage face landing from Argentina, always smiling but already showing the determination that was your strength.

"Behind the footballer was hiding a beautiful person, a golden guy.

"Wherever you are today, we hope that there is a ball and a field waiting for you, so that you can score and be happy for eternity."

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.

Image caption One of the many tributes left outside Cardiff City Stadium

"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."

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.

Image copyright AAIB
Image caption The AAIB released this photograph of the wreckage of the Piper Malibu

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