LONDON — More than two weeks after the plane carrying Emiliano Sala to a new career in the English Premier League crashed into the sea, police confirmed Thursday that the body recovered from the wreckage was the Argentine soccer player.
A search of the seabed of the English Channel only discovered the Piper Malibu aircraft on Sunday and the agony was prolonged for Sala's family by the difficulties raising the body to the surface.
"The news is so painful," Argentine President Mauricio Macri wrote in remarks translated from Spanish on Twitter, reflecting national concerns at home over the fate of Sala. "My condolences to the family, friends and teammates of Emiliano Sala on this tough moment. We are with you."
Search teams are yet to find pilot David Ibbotson, the only other person on board the light aircraft which lost contact with traffic control near Guernsey on the evening of Jan. 21 as it flew from the French city of Nantes to the Welsh capital Cardiff. At 28, Sala had just secured the biggest move of his career after signing for Cardiff.
In the south of Wales, they grieved the player who never got to pull on the Cardiff jersey.
"We offer our most heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the family of Emiliano," Cardiff City said in a statement. "He and David will forever remain in our thoughts."
Horacio Sala, the player's father, said Monday that he was hoping to "have some sort of certainty." But Sala's body was only recovered from the sea on Wednesday before being taken to Dorset in southern England. Sala was formally identified in coroner's examination on Thursday.
"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," Dorset Police said. "Our thoughts remain with them at this difficult time."
Investigators have not been able to recover the aircraft, due to what are being described as "challenging conditions." With an interim report due to be delivered within a month of the accident, authorities have expressed hopes a remote underwater vehicle provides evidence.
The formal search was called off within three days of the plane disappearing from radar last month. It took a campaign by Sala's family to raise funds for a private search by American-born, shipwreck-hunting specialist David Mearns, who located the aircraft within hours on Sunday in conjunction with air crash investigators.
"Profound pain over the death of Emiliano Sala," the Argentine Football Association said. "Our condolences to his family and loved ones."
Although born in Argentina and developed in the Proyecto Crecer youth academy, Sala made a name for himself in soccer in France after initially joining Bordeaux in 2010.
After finally making his first-team debut in 2011-12, he was sent on loan to Orleans in the third tier of French soccer, where he excelled with 19 goals in one season. Still unconvinced, Bordeaux tested him out with another loan move — this time up a level to Niort in the second division. Sala netted 21 goals, including 18 in Ligue 2, and so Bordeaux gave him his chance in the top flight.
However, Sala scored only once in 11 league games for Bordeaux during the 2014-15 campaign and the club sent him on loan again to Caen, where he made an instant impression with five goals in 13 games.
For a tall and powerful forward, Sala had a decent touch and was good at link-up play.
What he lacked in pace, outright skill and predatory finishing, he made up for with his combative attitude, good aerial ability and an accurate, powerful shot from outside the penalty area.
While other French clubs were undecided about him, Nantes saw enough talent to make him the focal point in its attack for 3 1/2 seasons. He rewarded the club's backing with a healthy return of 48 goals in 133 games overall, and became a firm fan's favourite along the way at the Stade de la Beaujoire.
That attracted the interest of Cardiff, which needed goals to try to avoid relegation from the Premier League. After what Cardiff called a "long process," Malaysian owner Vincent Tan agreed to pay Nantes a club-record 17 million euros and the deal was announced on Jan. 19.
"I can't wait to start training, meet my new teammates and get down to work," Sala said.
But first he returned to Nantes to bid farewell to his teammates, posting on social media a picture with them alongside the caption which translated as "the last goodbye" before boarding the fateful flight.
Even as Sala's family now mourns his loss, Nantes and Cardiff are in a legal quarrel, which neither club has denied, over settling the transfer payments still outstanding.
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