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Emiliano Sala may be alive aboard plane's life raft, police say

The Argentine had spent the hours before the aircraft vanished saying farewell to teammates after Cardiff City paid $19 million for him last week.
FC Nantes supporters gather after it was announced that the plane Argentine forward Emiliano Sala was flying on had vanished.Loic Venance / AFP - Getty Images

LONDON — Police searching for missing soccer star Emiliano Sala said Wednesday they were focusing on the possibility that the plane carrying the Premier League player landed on water in the English Channel and he made it onto a life raft.

Police said that three other scenarios were that the Cardiff City forward and the plane's pilot had landed elsewhere but not made contact, that they had been picked up by a passing ship, or the aircraft broke up on contact with water.

"Our search area is prioritized on the life raft option," police on the island of Guernsey said on Twitter early Wednesday.

The force later announced that 280 square miles had been searched during a five-hour period ending at 1:30 p.m. local time (8:30 a.m. ET), but added that no sign of Sala or the plane had been found.

The light aircraft that Sala was aboard disappeared from radar Monday night off the coast of Guernsey as it made the journey from Nantes, France.

The 28-year-old Sala had spent the previous hours saying farewell to teammates at the French city's soccer team after Cardiff signed him for a club-record fee last week.

Britain's Coastguard received an alert on Monday night from air traffic control in Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, after it failed to make contact with the Piper PA-46 plane with two people on board.

The French civil aviation authority confirmed Sala was on it.

Image: A map showing Guernsey
Guernsey is the second largest of the Channel Islands and is located about 30 miles west of Normandy, France.Bing Maps

The aircraft had been cruising at 5,000 feet when the pilot requested to descend to a lower altitude on passing Guernsey. It lost radar contact at 2,300 feet, police said.

Sala's last post on Instagram was a picture on Monday with FC Nantes players alongside a message which translates as "the last goodbye."

Cardiff City paid a reported $19 million for Sala. He visited the Welsh capital last week to finalize the transfer, which was awaiting international clearance.

"I can't wait to start training, meet my new teammates and get down to work," the Argentine said in a video posted on Cardiff City's website.

A powerful and direct player, Sala equaled his career-best total of 12 goals — achieved in the past two seasons with FC Nantes — in 19 league games this season. He is fifth highest scorer in the French league, one behind Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar, who is the world's most expensive player.

Sala had previously played in France for Bordeaux.