Missing plane search called off for the night as pilot named as Dave Ibbotson

23 January 2019, 16:22 | Updated: 24 January 2019, 11:04

The private pilot flying the plane which has gone missing with Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala on board has been named as David Ibbotson.

Mr Ibbotson, from Crowle, near Scunthorpe, has been missing with the newly signed footballer since the plane disappeared from radar over the English Channel on Monday night.

A spokesman for Humberside Police, said: "We can confirm that North Lincolnshire man David Ibbotson is believed to be the pilot of the light aircraft that went missing near Guernsey on Monday 21 January.

"Specially trained officers are supporting Mr Ibbotson's family who have asked for privacy at this difficult time."

A "visibly upset" woman declined to comment near Mr Ibbotson's home, according to The Grimsby Telegraph.

He has been associated with skydiving company Target Skysports, based in Hibaldstow, North Lincolnshire.

The pilot was flying Sala from Nantes in western France to Cardiff, where he was signed for a reported record £15m on Saturday, when the plane went missing.

The Channel Islands Air Search says the search for the plane has moved from a rescue to a recovery operation.

Guernsey Police said it had searched 280 square miles using multiple aircraft over five hours on Wednesday, but there was "as yet no trace" of the missing plane.

A spokesman confirmed at 5pm that the search would be called off for the night.

Mark McKay, the agent for Nantes in the deal with Cardiff, made his first statement since the footballer went missing, saying that he wanted to "express my sadness and that of my families" over the "tragic events".

"I knew Emiliano well, he was a wonderful person and I count myself fortunate to have known him," he said.

Mr Mckay added that the plane was "not owned in any way or part by either myself or any member of my family".

He said he began looking into arranging a private flight to take him to Nantes after his medical and signing in Cardiff on Saturday, at the footballer's request.

The plane was meant to remain in Nantes until he was due to return to the Welsh city on Monday, he added.

Guernsey Police had earlier said it was looking at four possibilities for the fate of the plane - including that it landed on water, with Sala and the pilot making it onto a life raft known to be on board.

The other possibilities being explored included that the plane had landed elsewhere but had not made contact, that Sala and the pilot landed on water and were picked up by a passing ship, or that the plane broke up on contact with the water - leaving them in the sea.

Rescuers have also reviewed satellite images and mobile phone data in the hope of finding the pair.

Police had previously warned that the chances of Sala and Mr Ibbotson surviving were "slim" if the aircraft landed on water.

John Fitzgerald, chief officer of Channel Islands Air Search, said: "I can't see how anybody could survive in such temperatures for that length of time.

"Looking at the sea conditions today it's very rough out there, there's a good strong wind blowing, with sea conditions [that] are pretty horrendous."

The footballer reportedly voiced fears about the safety of the missing plane in a WhatsApp audio message he sent to friends while on board.

In the message, a voice - reported to be Sala's - is heard saying: "I am here in the plane that seems is about to fall to pieces."

He later adds: "I'm scared."

Addressing the media in his home country of Argentina, the footballer's father said he was "beginning to think the worst".

Horacio Sala said: "The hours pass and I am just beginning to think the worst.

"We were in touch on Sunday. He was so happy that he was going there, to an even bigger club."

Concerns were raised when the 28-year-old failed to respond to messages on social media after reports he had been travelling to the UK on Monday.

The Argentinian forward, who had played in France since 2012, made Cardiff City history when he was bought for a record fee of £15m on a three-and-a-half year deal from Nantes at the weekend.

The search for the missing aircraft was suspended overnight on Tuesday, with rescue teams finding "no signs" of the plane.

Cardiff City chairman Mehmet Dalman confirmed the club had not booked the aircraft for the trip and Sala had "made his own arrangements".

The PA-46 Malibu, a single turbine engine aircraft, left Nantes for Cardiff at 7.15pm on Monday and after requesting to descend, it lost contact with Jersey air traffic control.

The AAIB said the plane's registration number was N264DB and it is investigating the loss of the plane, working with authorities in Argentina, France and the US.

The plane's registered owner is Suffolk-based Southern Aircraft Consultancy (SAC) according to the US Federal Aviation Administration.

An SAC spokesman said: "We learnt of the missing aircraft yesterday and are deeply concerned for those who are missing. Our thoughts are with their family and friends at this difficult time."

Nantes' next Coupe de France match was postponed following Sala's disappearance and fans gathered in the city's Place Royale on Tuesday night to sing songs and lay tributes.

Cardiff's next match against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday, 29 January is expected to go ahead as planned.