LONDON • Floral tributes were left at the Cardiff City Stadium yesterday after it was reported that Emiliano Sala, their newly-signed striker, was on board an airplane that disappeared on Monday night while crossing the English Channel.
Sala, who moved from Ligue 1 side Nantes last Saturday for a club-record £15 million (S$26.3 million), had been due to attend his first training session with the Premier League club yesterday.
Ken Choo, the Bluebirds' chief executive officer, yesterday issued an official statement in response, saying: "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 Vincent Tan and chairman Mehmet Dalman are all very distressed about the situation.
"We made the decision first thing this morning to call off training with the thoughts of the squad, management staff, and the entire club with Emiliano and the pilot.
"All of us at Cardiff 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."
French civil aviation authorities confirmed the 28 year old "was on board the plane" that departed from Nantes for the Welsh capital.
He was one of two passengers on the missing Piper Malibu plane, a small propeller-driven aircraft.
According to the British police, the plane disappeared from air traffic control radar, about 24km north of Guernsey, an island in the Channel, after "requesting descent".
It is not known why the pilot wanted to land so far short of their destination, and the plane was flying at an altitude of 701 metres when it lost contact.
A search and rescue operation started on Monday evening before it was called off due to bad weather.
British and French helicopters and airplanes resumed the search yesterday but, at press time, there was still no trace of the plane.
John Fitzgerald, chief officer for the Channel Islands Air Search, a search and rescue service, told the Associated Press he was "not expecting anyone to be alive".
He said: "I don't think the (UK) Coast Guard are either. We just don't know how it disappeared."
Sala had earned his big-money move to English football's top-flight after enjoying a rise to prominence relatively late in his career.
At the point of his departure, the Argentinian, who did not play over the weekend, had been the joint-third highest goalscorer in the French league on 12 goals, trailing only Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe and Nicolas Pepe of Lille.
The striker, who is known for his old-fashioned physical play, which Nantes coach Vahid Halilhodzic claimed was the "sort you do not see much any more", came through Bordeaux's youth ranks after leaving his home province of Santa Fe.
Having spent his entire professional career playing in France, Sala's former clubs expressed their shock at the turn of events.
Nantes president Waldemar Kita said: "He was a polite, kind and adorable boy, loved by everyone. He was very respectful, very courteous. I am thinking about his family and all his friends."
US Orleans, where he spent the 2012-13 season on loan, tweeted: "Sad news this morning, all our thoughts go to the relatives of Sala and to the relatives of the pilot."
Sala's last post on his Instagram account was on Monday, prior to his flight, saying a "final goodbye" to his former Nantes teammates.
The forward's parents were also in anguish over his disappearance. His father, Horatio, told Argentinian TV's Channel 5 News he was "worried and desperate".
He said: "They are saying that the plane lost control in the Channel. I don't know what could have happened. I am speechless."
This could be the second air-related tragedy to hit the Premier League in a short span. Less than three months ago, Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha died when his helicopter crashed as it was leaving the stadium.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES