LONDON – Emiliano Sala sent a haunting text message to a friend minutes before his plane was lost over the English Channel.
Cardiff City’s record £15million signing is missing presumed dead after his flight went off radar, north of Alderney at Les Casquets at 8.23pm on Monday, just an hour after taking off from Nantes Atlantique airport.
The single engine Piper PA-46 Malibu plane was bound for Cardiff, but Diego Rolan, a friend and former teammate of Sala while at Bordeaux, confirmed to Uruguayan radio last night:
“I know that Emiliano sent a message to a friend while he was on board the plane, before the signal was lost, telling him he was afraid and that if they did not find him, he would have already known what had happened.”
Sala had been dropped off at the airport by his friend, Nantes defender Nicolas Pallois, and before boarding the plane, had confided in him that he was concerned about the flight.
After chatting with the pilot. he texted friends, saying the plane was making “weird noises” and joked about the journey ahead.
The 28-year-old striker had travelled in the same plane from Cardiff back to France on Sunday, and complained about it being “bumpy”.
Unconfirmed reports say the plane had difficulty taking off and took “three or four” attempts before flying at 7.15pm.
The journey should take about one hour and 20 minutes and, as Cardiff became concerned about the plane’s late arrival, manager Neil Warnock contacted Sala’s representatives, who tried to alert the player’s family.
His father Horacio, mother Mercedes and his sister were travelling from Rosario, Argentina to Paris on Tuesday night.
“I’m desperate,” Horacio told Argentinian TV. “I do not know what will happen... I hope that good news will come. My family knew nothing, I had to tell them.
“His transfer to Cardiff was a big step. He is a boy who has always fought hard. A humble boy. It still feels inexplicable. His whole future ahead of him, all those dreams he had.”
At Nantes’ training ground on Tuesday, stunned players, staff and supporters cried as news filtered through.
Sala had held a farewell lunch with his teammates on Monday. He posed for pictures before posting on Instagram with the prophetic caption “la ultima ciao” – “the last goodbye”.
Nantes cancelled Wednesday night’s Coupe de France match at SSG Entente as a mark of respect.
Supporters of the French club took to the city centre’s La Place Royale to place yellow tulips, symbolic of Nantes’ colours, at the foot of the fountain, clinging to a hope their former idol will be found.
However, as light faded, the 15-hour search that had covered over 1 155 square miles, was suspended at 5pm to be resumed on Wednesday morning.