The French Civil Aviation Authority has said Cardiff City’s record £18 million signing Emiliano Sala was aboard a small passenger plane that went missing off the coast of the island of Guernsey.
French and British maritime authorities are searching the English Channel for the plane.
A spokesman for the French Civil Aviation Authority said, “We can confirm Emiliano Sala was on board. This morning, the French research started with one French national navy ship and one aircraft. The investigation will determine which authority will take the lead on the research.”
Cardiff called off training upon hearing the news on Tuesday and club CEO Ken Choo said: “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.
“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.”
Guernsey police say the flight left Monday evening from Nantes en route to Wales with two people aboard. Police say the search resumed Tuesday morning and that no trace has been found. The French regional maritime authority sent a search helicopter.
The Guernsey Coastguard received an alert shortly after 8 p.m. GMT on Monday that the plane had lost contact with Jersey Air Traffic Control after requesting to descend while passing Guernsey. The search was postponed around 2.30 a.m. GMT on Tuesday morning because of difficult conditions. A decision to conduct an overnight search will be made later Tuesday.
“At this time no trace of the missing aircraft had been found,” Guernsey police said.
A further update from Guernsey police at 11.45 a.m. GMT on Tuesday read: “So far over 1,000sq miles have been searched by a total of five aircraft and two lifeboats. It is being co-ordinated by the Joint Emergency Services Control Centre. There has been no trace of the aircraft. The search is continuing.”
Nantes’ French Cup last-32 game against Entente Sannois-Saint Gratien, originally set for Wednesday, was postponed until Sunday. Nantes is Sala’s former club.
“I’m thinking of his friends, his family. I’m still hopeful, he’s a fighter. It’s not over, he’s perhaps somewhere. While waiting for news that we hope will be positive, we’re very touched by all the support we have received since this morning,” Nantes president Waldemar Kita said.
The club joined the call for fans to go to the Place Royale in Nantes to put a yellow tulip at the foot of the fountain there as a mark of support.
Sala, 28, tweeted his farewell to Nantes on Monday, along with a picture with his former colleagues.
Sala first arrived in France in 2010 when his potential was spotted by Bordeaux, who had him on their books for five years. He spent three spells out on loan, including half a season at Caen that convinced Nantes to sign him in the summer of 2015. He scored 36 times in 89 top-flight games for Les Canaris, including 12 this season, before signing for Cardiff.
Information from Reuters, Ian Holyman and Aramide Oladipo contributed to this report.