EPL: Search for Cardiff City star Emiliano Sala's missing plane called off

Rescuers said there was almost no chance of Premier League soccer player Emiliano Sala being found alive after a recording emerged of a fearful voice message he sent from his stricken plane before it disappeared over the English Channel.

Rescue teams reviewed satellite imagery and mobile phone data while four aircraft scoured seas off the island of Alderney, where unidentified debris had been spotted. 

However, they suspended their search on Thursday (NZ time) after finding no trace of the missing plane after nine hours of hunting.  

Cardiff City's new signing and the aircraft's pilot, named as Briton David Ibbotson, had been missing since Tuesday and rescuers said chances of finding either of them alive were slim.  

Police said a decision on whether to resume the search would be taken early on Friday.

 "We're up there looking for stuff that we don't expect to find," John Fitzgerald, chief officer of the Channel Islands Air Search said.

"If there was anything on the surface I think we would have found it on the first night because the weather conditions were really good."

The 28-year-old Argentina-born forward was en route from Nantes in western France to make his debut for Premier League side Cardiff.

A shirt left outside Cardiff's stadium.
A shirt left outside Cardiff's stadium. Photo credit: Reuters

In a chilling voice message sent to friends, which Argentina's Clarin newspaper said was authenticated by Sala's father, the player expressed concerns about the single-engine Piper Malibu aircraft he was flying in.

"I'm in the plane, and it looks like it's going to fall apart," he said. "Dad, I'm really scared."  

Britain's Air Accident Investigations Branch said it had opened an investigation into the disappearance of the US registered aircraft.  

Sala joined Cardiff from FC Nantes last week for a club record fee of about 17 million euros (NZ$28.3m), having scored 12 goals for the French club this season.

Cardiff fans laid tributes outside their stadium to a player they barely knew but had built high hopes around.

In Nantes, supporters laid rows of yellow flowers and held club scarves aloft in the city centre late on Tuesday.

British media on Wednesday cited Cardiff chairman Mehmet Dalman as saying the club had not organised Sala's travel plans.

"He declined and made his own arrangements," Mehmet was quoted as saying.