Belfast Telegraph

Appeal to fund new search for missing Cardiff striker Sala to remain open

An official search and rescue operation was called off on Thursday.

The appeal to fund a new search for missing Cardiff striker Emiliano Sala will remain open after the target of 300,000 euros (£259,000) was raised, the family said on Sunday.

An official search and rescue operation for the Piper PA-46 Malibu carrying the Argentinian striker and pilot David Ibbotson was called off on Thursday.

Pleas for the search to resume were made by the 28-year-old player’s family, Argentinian football stars Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona and Sergio Aguero and the country’s president Mauricio Macri.

Donations from footballers including Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan and France World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe helped a GoFundMe page raising money for the search to reach a revised target of 300,000 euros (£259,000).

A statement from the family issued on Sunday afternoon via the GoFundMe page read: “As the new ceiling of 300,000 euros has been reached, Emiliano’s family and we would like to thank you again for your exceptional generosity, in a drama that goes far beyond football.

“Donations continue to flow and the prize will remain open for the moment, waiting for news from Emiliano and the driver, D. Ibbotson.

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A tribute to Cardiff striker Emiliano Sala was shown on the big screen at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium (Simon Galloway/PA)

“As a reminder, these funds will be used exclusively in research (mobilization of sea and air transport, exploration of the seabed, etc.) and help to families. Thanks again.”

Football agent Willie McKay arranged for the flight to take Sala from Nantes to Cardiff but had no involvement in selecting the plane or pilot.

McKay’s son, Mark, was the acting agent for Nantes in a move which made 28-year-old Sala a club-record transfer for Cardiff.

His other son, Jack, who plays for the Bluebirds, exchanged a series of text messages with Sala, suggesting a private flight from Cardiff to Nantes, and then back to south Wales two days later.

McKay senior, who has released those messages, said a commercial flight to the French city would have involved going via Amsterdam.

After signing for Cardiff for £15million, Sala returned to Nantes to collect his belongings and say goodbye to team-mates and staff of the Ligue 1 club before heading back to the United Kingdom.

7:56pm- McKay: He said he could organise a plane that would go direct to Nantes.

7:56pm- Sala: How much will it cost?

7:56pm- McKay: Nothing. He said if you help me to score goals it's nothing.

7:59pm- Sala: Hahaha with pleasure.

8:00pm- Sala: We are going to score lots of goals.Text message exchange between Sala and Jack McKay.

However, the plane carrying Sala disappeared over the Channel on Monday evening.

Cardiff’s staff and supporters, meanwhile, will wear yellow daffodils at Arsenal on Tuesday in respect of Sala and the club captains will place floral tributes at the ground.

On Saturday, tributes were paid to the missing men before games including the FA Cup match between Swansea and Gillingham at the Liberty Stadium as well as Newport’s tie at Middlesbrough and matches in the Sky Bet Championship.

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Tributes have been made at grounds across the country (Richard Sellers/PA)

American-born marine scientist and oceanographer David Mearns, based in south-east England, is leading the private search on behalf of Sala’s family around the Channel Islands.

Sala’s sister and mother Mercedes arrived in Guernsey on Sunday as the search continued.

“This is a family that has come from Argentina with this huge shock out of nowhere and is struggling with very, very few answers about an unexplained loss,” Mearns was quoted as saying by the BBC.

“They’re looking at this as a missing person, a missing plane and until they are satisfied that’s the mode that we are in.”

Mearns added: “As you know locally the search was terminated on Thursday and that was what triggered this private search. Today, even as an expert my frame of thinking is alongside with the family’s.

“That’s what I’m trying to do, but we’re trying to give them the best advice that we possibly can. You have to appreciate they don’t know the environment, they don’t know the geography.”

Press Association

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