Cardiff chairman Mehmet Dalman admits “it doesn’t look good” for Emiliano Sala after a search and rescue operation to find the missing player was suspended.
City’s record signing Sala and pilot David Ibbotson were aboard an aeroplane which disappeared from radar en route from Nantes to Cardiff on Monday evening.
Guernsey Police will make a decision early on Thursday morning whether to recommence the search around the island of Alderney, with rescue teams having found “no trace” of the light aircraft.
Dalman, who described Sala’s disappearance as a “tragic accident”, said the Piper PA-46 Malibu plane was not organised by the club.
He also said the sister of the £15million Argentinian striker was on her way to south Wales.
“We continue to collect data to try to understand what happened from this end. Everything points towards a tragic accident, it really does,” Dalman told Sky Sports News HQ.
“We will continue to hope and pray. But we also have to be realistic, it doesn’t look good at this very moment.”
Speaking about the chartering of the plane, he added: “That is correct (Cardiff had nothing to do with it). We have looked into this quite thoroughly.
“It’s quite evident that Cardiff took the responsibility to offer Sala arrangements, which obviously would have been commercial flights, which would have meant a train from Nantes to Paris then Paris to Heathrow and then driving up (to Cardiff).
“And the player’s reaction to that was to make his own arrangements which was much quicker.
“Whether he did it from Nantes’ point of view or with his agent, we are trying to extricate that. I think we will reach a conclusion to that in two days.”
Football agent Mark McKay said he was involved in the travel arrangements of Sala, telling Sky Sports News: “I can confirm that when Emiliano made myself and his agent Meissa N’Diaye aware that he wished to travel back to Nantes following his medical and signing on Friday, I began to look into arranging a private flight to take him to Nantes on Saturday morning.
“That evening, it was confirmed a plane was available to fly Emiliano on Saturday which could remain in Nantes until he was due to return to Cardiff.
“I have been in contact with officials from Cardiff City FC and the player’s agent over these difficult past few days and will continue to do so.”
Humberside Police confirmed on Wednesday evening that Ibbotson, from Crowle, near Scunthorpe, was the pilot.
Searches for the missing plane, which were suspended due to fading light, had resumed after the emergence of a WhatsApp voice message from Sala.
In the recording, the 28-year-old says he is “getting scared” as he is “aboard a plane that seems like it is falling to pieces”, as reported on Ole.com.ar.
The rescue operation has targeted an area of 280 square miles around Alderney using multiple aircraft from the Channel Islands, France and the United Kingdom.
Police, who said rescue workers were prioritising the possibility that the plane landed on water and its life raft was used, confirmed on Wednesday evening the search had been temporarily halted.
“After an intensive search using multiple aircraft and one lifeboat over the last nine hours, we have found no trace of the missing plane,” read a Guernsey Police statement.
“With the light now fading, the search will shortly be suspended for the night. A decision about whether to recommence will be taken early tomorrow morning.”
John Fitzgerald, Channel Islands Air Search chief officer, said it was unlikely Sala or Ibbotson would be found alive.
Asked if that operation was now more about recovery than rescue, he told Sky Sports News: “I think it is very much that sort of recovery stage now.”
Sala was on his way back to Wales after saying goodbye to his Nantes team-mates on Monday night having signed a three-and-a-half-year deal to join the Bluebirds two days earlier.
According to Guernsey Police, the single turbine engine aircraft departed Nantes at 1915 on Monday for the Welsh capital and was flying at an altitude of 5,000ft.
On passing Guernsey it “requested descent”, but Jersey air traffic control (ATC) lost contact with the plane while it was flying at 2,300ft.
Cardiff’s chief executive Ken Choo described Sala as a “great person” and revealed the player had described joining the Premier League club as “one of the best days of his life”.
Fulham manager Claudio Ranieri, who coached Sala at Nantes, added in a statement on Twitter: “I was devastated to hear the news. Emiliano is a wonderful character.
“He’s a fighter. The world of football will be united in wishing for some positive news. I pray for Emiliano and his family.”