There is “no hope” of finding missing Premier League star Emiliano Sala, a senior search and rescue official said today.
A major air and sea search for the plane carrying new Cardiff City signing Sala, 28, resumed at first light today after the plane lost contact off Alderney in the Channel Islands on Monday evening.
John Fitzgerald, chief officer of Channel Islands Air Search, told the BBC there was “no hope” of finding him and “even the most fit person” would only last a few hours in the water.
Rescuers were focused on Wednesday on the “slim” remaining hope that Sala and the pilot escaped onto a life raft after the Piper-P46 Malibu disappeared from radars at around 8.30pm.
As of 11.30am on Wednesday, Guernsey Police said there were three planes and one helicopter in the air as they scoured the Channel for any trace of the plane.
However rescue workers have so far found “nothing”, the force said in a tweet.
It wrote: “We are also reviewing satellite imagery and mobile phone data to see if they can be of any assistance in the search.
“So far today nothing spotted can be attributed to the missing plane.”
Mr Fitzgerald said: “Sadly, I really don’t think, personally, there is any hope. At this time of year the conditions out there are pretty horrendous if you are actually in the water.”
Police had earlier said aircraft were searching a targeted area where there is said to be the highest likelihood of finding possible survivors.
Coastal areas around Alderney were also being searched from the air.
Guernsey Police accepted that the chances of survival were “slim”, but revealed today that there was hope the pair could have survived by climbing into a life raft.
The force said it was searching based on four possibilities: that the pair landed elsewhere but had not made contact; they landed on water and were picked up by a passing ship but have not made contact; they landed on water and made it into the life raft they “know” was on board; or that the aircraft broke up on contact with the water, leaving them in the sea.
A spokesman said: “Our search area is prioritised on the life raft option.”
It came as Sala’s ex-girlfriend Berenice Schkair, a 26-year-old French model, spoke of her heartbreak in an Instagram post.
She wrote: “My heart is broken. I cannot accept it. I feel pain, fear, anger and helplessness from not being able to do anything from here – I feel useless.”
She added she had not given up hope that he could be found alive.
She said: “You are a fighter, Emi, I know that if you are strong we are waiting for you… I have faith and hope!”
Earlier, in a now deleted post, she suggested she didn’t believe the plane’s disappearance was an accident and blamed the “soccer mafia”.
“Investigate the soccer mafia because I do not believe this accident,” she said.
Sala visited France from Cardiff at the weekend to bid farewell to his old squad at Ligue 1 side Nantes, posting a poignant photo with the caption: “The last goodbye”.
He told friends he had been worried about the outbound “choppy flight”, sources said.
On leaving for the UK, the pilot reportedly struggled to get the plane airborne “three or four times”. He lost contact with Jersey air traffic control after requesting permission to descend.
It emerged today that £15 million striker Sala called friends on WhatsApp as the plane struggled against high winds and driving rain.
He said: “So it looks like I’m here on a plane that’s about to fall apart.
“If in an hour and a half there is no news of me, I don’t know if they’ll send anyone to look for me because you won’t find me, but you’ll know… I’m so scared!”
The footballer’s family, including father Horacio and mother Mercedes, admitted they were beginning to fear the worst
Breaking down in tears, his father said he is “desperate” for news and “in despair”.
He said: “The hours pass and I am just beginning to think the worst.”
His mother added: “We are just here waiting, minute after minute. I spoke to him a few hours before he took off. I don’t know what else to say, I’m so worried.”
Five aircraft and two lifeboats searched more than 1,000 square miles of sea on Tuesday but found “no trace” of the plane.
The search was halted because of the lack of visibility and deteriorating weather, before resuming at 7.30am today.
While the American-made Piper-P46 Malibu generally has a good safety record, there have been numerous instances of such planes crashing in bad weather.
Sala, who left home aged 15 to fulfil his dream of becoming a professional footballer, was described as a “warrior”, with support pouring in from the footballing world including from World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe, Monaco manager Thierry Henry and Match of the Day pundit Gary Lineker.
Fans of his former club Nantes have also been holding candlelit vigils for the player in the city’s Place Royale, singing songs and laying tributes, while Cardiff City’s chief executive Ken Choo said everyone at the club was in “shock”.
The club’s chairman Mehmet Dalman, who is in France, told BBC Radio Wales on Wednesday: “We will not leave a single stone unturned until we have all the facts.”
He confirmed that the club had not booked the plane for the trip adding that Sala had “made his own arrangements”.
Nantes’ next Coupe de France match was postponed and fans gathered in the city’s Place Royale on Tuesday night to sing songs and lay tributes.