A body recovered from plane wreckage in the English Channel has been identified as 28-year-old soccer player Emiliano Sala, according to reports out of the United Kingdom.
“The body brought to Portland Port has been formally identified by HM Coroner for Dorset as that of professional footballer Emiliano Sala,” Dorset police said, according to The Guardian. “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 confirmation brings to an end a dispiriting two and a half weeks since the plane carrying Sala and Ibbotson disappeared on Jan. 21 while traveling from Nantes, France, to Cardiff City, Wales, where the Argentine was set to debut as Cardiff’s record $19 million signing. The whereabouts of Ibbotson are still unknown.
Cardiff City Football Club released a statement of its own:
“It is with great sadness that we report the following statement, issued on February 7th 2019 by the Dorset Police:
“The body brought to Portland Port today, 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.” We offer our most heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the family of Emiliano. He and David will forever remain in our thoughts.
According to the BBC, the Piper Malibu N264DB aircraft disappeared from radar at 2,300 feet on Jan. 21, and air traffic control alerted Her Majesty’s Coastguard at 8:23 p.m. local time when it couldn’t contact the plane.
Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch found the plane wreckage on Sunday 67 meters under water on the seabed 21 miles off the coast of the island of Guernsey. The search was initially called off by the Guernsey harbor master on Jan. 24, but resumed amid pleas from Sala’s family and the support of several soccer stars, like Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe and Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan.
The body was glimpsed in underwater footage taken of the wreckage and recovered by remotely operated vehicles (or ROVs) on Wednesday. The plane itself, however, was deemed irretrievable due to poor weather conditions and the AAIB halted any further attempts to recover it.
Sala was born on Oct. 31, 1990, in the town of Cululú in the Santa Fe Province of Argentina, the same province where Messi was born. He played for youth clubs in his native Sante Fe and later in Córdoba, which served as a partner club to Bordeaux in France. After being spotted by scouts, Sala spent three years with Bordeaux from 2012-2015, where he was loaned out to smaller French clubs three separate times, and signed for FC Nantes in July of 2015 for a fee of around $1.1 million.
While with Nantes, Sala scored 48 goals in 133 appearances across all competitions, using his 6-foot-3-inch frame to offer an aerial threat while also possessing a good work rate and a knack for hold-up play, among other qualities. Sala scored 29 goals total in 2016-17 and 2017-18, helping lead Nantes to top-10 finishes in the Ligue 1 table both seasons. He had scored 13 goals in 19 matches overall this season, and it’s clear to see why relegation-battling Cardiff City coveted his services.
Sala was unveiled at Cardiff on Jan. 18, and he had flown back to Nantes to say goodbye to his teammates.