The body of the pilot, 59-year-old David Ibbotson, has yet to be found by private search teams hired after British authorities called off their search on Jan. 24, saying at the time that “chances of survival” were “extremely remote.” That was three days after the plane was lost from radar, beginning a stretch of pain and frustration for the families of Sala and Ibbotson, who were the only people aboard the small aircraft, a Piper Malibu.
Sala’s family also expressed hope that Ibbotson’s body would be discovered.
“On this Friday morning, our thoughts go to David Ibbotson and his family, hoping that the authorities will do their best to find him.”
“We offer our most heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the family of Emiliano,” Cardiff City, the English Premier League club which had signed Sala from France’s Nantes, said in a statement. “He and David will forever remain in our thoughts.”
Police in the English county of Dorset, where Sala’s body was taken for examination after it was recovered, said that it was “formally identified” by a coroner as the native of Argentina’s. The families of Sala and Ibbotson “have been updated with this news,” the police added, “and will continue to be supported by specially trained family liaison officers.”
Wreckage of the plane was located Sunday morning 220 feet below the surface of the Channel on a seabed off the coast of Guernsey, an island near Normandy. After remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) were used to examine the scene, a body was spotted inside.
Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch said in a statement that the body was recovered Wednesday in “challenging conditions,” and that the “operation was carried out in as dignified a way as possible and the families were kept informed of progress.”
The agency added that attempts to recover the plane were not successful, saying, “The weather forecast is poor for the foreseeable future and so the difficult decision was taken to bring the overall operation to a close.” It noted, though, that the ROVs provided “valuable evidence” for the AAIB’s safety investigation.
The acquisition of Sala for almost $20 million from Nantes represented the biggest such expenditure in the history of Cardiff. Team officials expressed surprise Wednesday that the French club was already threatening legal action in the absence of the first installment of that transaction, a sum of approximately $6.5 million. Cardiff officials said they were willing to honor the deal but wanted to wait until the investigation into the crash, including a determination on the ownership of the plane, was completed. The club has offered to pay for Sala’s body to be returned to Argentina, according to a BBC report.
The French football league announced there will be a minute of applause for Sala at all Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 games this weekend. Nantes, in a statement, said, “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.”
Sala, who joined Nantes in 2015 after three years with Bordeaux, was a striker whose 12 goals this season are still tied for fifth in Ligue 1. Players from around the EPL reacted with sadness Wednesday to the confirmation of Sala’s death, with Cardiff’s Sol Bamba saying on Twitter, “Tragic . . . May you rest in peace.”
“Terribly sad, Rest in peace, Emiliano,” Manchester City striker and fellow Argentine Sergio Aguero said. “My condolences to his friends and family.”
“What a painful news,” Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, said on Twitter in Spanish. “My condolences to Emiliano Sala’s family, friends and colleagues at this very hard time. We’re with you.”
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