Body recovered from plane wreckage identified as Cardiff player Sala

Emiliano Sala was on board a plane being flown by pilot David Ibbotson. /BBC
Emiliano Sala was on board a plane being flown by pilot David Ibbotson. /BBC

The body recovered from the wreckage of a crashed plane is that of Cardiff City player Emiliano Sala, Dorset Police have said.

Sala, 28, was travelling to Cardiff in a plane piloted by David Ibbotson, which went missing over the English Channel on January 21.

The body was recovered late on Wednesday after the wreckage was found on Sunday morning.

Dorset Police confirmed the identification on Thursday night.

In a statement, the force said: "The body brought to Portland Port on Thursday 7, February 2019, has been formally identified by HM Coroner for Dorset as that of professional footballer Emiliano Sala.

"The families of Mr Sala and the pilot David Ibbotson have been updated with this news and will continue to be supported by specially-trained family liaison officers."

The body was spotted in the wreckage of the plane on Monday and the authorities were able to recover it two days later, despite "challenging conditions".

The Air Accidents Investigations Branch (AAIB) said the operation had been carried out "as dignified a way as possible" and the men's families were kept updated throughout.

The Geo Ocean III, which was involved in finding the wreckage, took the body back to the nearest port of Portland in Dorset, where the body was formally identified.

The Piper Malibu N264DB was en route from France to Cardiff after the Argentine striker made a quick trip back to his former club Nantes two days after his £15m transfer to Cardiff was announced.

Cardiff City, issued a statement shortly after identification was confirmed, saying: "We offer our most heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the family of Emiliano. He and David will forever remain in our thoughts."

Some of the club's players reacted via Twitter. Full back Joe Bennett wrote "RIP Emiliano", while centre-half Sol Bamba posted a black-and-white image of the team-mate he never got to play alongside.

Stars from the wider footballing world also paid tribute.

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 Mehmet 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."

Mr Ibbotson, 59, from Crowle, North Lincolnshire, was at the controls when the flight lost contact with air traffic controllers on January 21.

He is yet to be found.

An official search was called off on January 24 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 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 the best use of the available sensors.

Mr Mearns said the plane was identified by sonar, 67m (220ft) below the surface 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, 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.

"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.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Sala's former club, French Ligue 1 side Nantes, has demanded Cardiff City pay his £15m transfer fee.

Sala was Cardiff's record signing but never played for the club.

The fee was due to be paid over three years but Cardiff has withheld the first scheduled payment until they are satisfied with the documentation.