The Unexplained Vanishing of Well-Known Soccer Player, Emiliano Sala

By: Alec Donaldson | Last updated: Aug 07, 2023

The disappearance of Emiliano Sala, a talented Argentine professional footballer, has captivated the world with its baffling mystery. On January 21, 2019, Sala was en route to join his new team, Cardiff City, after transferring from FC Nantes in a private plane. However, the aircraft disappeared over the English Channel, and both Sala and the pilot, David Ibbotson, were never found. 

Despite extensive search efforts, the exact circumstances of Sala’s disappearance remain unclear, with speculations ranging from foul play to aviation-related issues. With unanswered questions and a haunting sense of loss, the case of Emiliano Sala’s disappearance continues to intrigue and puzzle investigators and football fans alike.

The Early Life of Sala

Emiliano Sala’s journey as a football player was one of passion, perseverance, and promise. Born on October 31, 1990, in Cululu, Argentina, Sala showed an early talent for the sport. He began his youth career with Club San Martín, a local team, before moving to FC Proyecto Crecer, where he honed his skills as a forward. Sala’s talent shone bright, and he quickly rose through the ranks, joining prominent clubs in Argentina, including Club Atlético Independiente and Club Atlético San Martín.


Source: emilianosala9/Instagram

His exceptional goal-scoring ability and determination earned him recognition, eventually leading him to sign with FC Nantes in France. He quickly became a beloved player and a rising star in European football. Sala’s early life as a football player was marked by his unwavering dedication, talent, and deep love for the game, which laid the foundation for his promising career.


A Passion for Football

Standing at an impressive 1.87 meters tall, Sala earned the nickname “El Tanque” (The Tank) during his time in Europe due to his imposing physical presence on the field. Although Sala had not played professionally in Argentina, his love for the national team, known as “albiceleste,” was unwavering.


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Despite his relative anonymity among his compatriots in Argentina, Sala’s passion for representing his country was undeniable. Like many other football-loving Argentinians, his dedication to the sport and his desire to don the iconic Argentina shirt was a testament to his deep-rooted connection to his national team and his pride in his heritage.

Getting the Deal of a Lifetime

In December 2018, Cardiff City, then competing in the Premier League, first took notice of Emiliano Sala’s talents. Manager Neil Warnock personally traveled to France to witness Sala play for FC Nantes against Marseille, and after seeing him score in a thrilling 3-2 victory, Cardiff City expressed their interest. Despite Sala’s reported value of $25 million, Nantes initially rejected Cardiff’s offer.


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However, negotiations resumed between the clubs when the transfer window reopened after Christmas. The interest in Sala from a Premier League club was a testament to his skill and potential, and it marked a significant turning point in his career as he prepared to move to a new league and club.

His Last and Unexpected Farewell

As he prepared to embark on a new chapter in his career, Emiliano Sala made a poignant trip back to Nantes to bid farewell to his teammates and friends and collect his belongings. It was a bittersweet moment for Sala, who had formed strong bonds with his fellow players and had become a beloved figure in the community.


Source: emilianosala9/Instagram

The trip was a poignant reminder of his impact during his time at FC Nantes and the emotional connection he had developed with his teammates and friends. Little did anyone know that it would be Sala’s last visit to Nantes, adding a heart-wrenching layer to this farewell as fate had something tragic in store.

Danger Looms Ahead for Sala

On January 21, 2019, at 7:15 p.m., a fateful flight took off from Nantes, France, bound for Cardiff, Wales, with Emiliano Sala on board. David Ibbotson, a 59-year-old from Crowle in Lincolnshire, piloted the aircraft. But, shockingly, Ibbotson did not possess a commercial pilot license and was not qualified to fly at night.

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Furthermore, his rating for the single-engine Piper Malibu plane had expired months earlier. The revelation of these concerning details added a tragic layer to Sala’s ill-fated journey, raising questions about the safety and legality of the flight that ultimately ended in a devastating outcome.


He Sent One Last Message

As Emiliano Sala’s flight progressed, he sent his friends a chilling voice message. In the statement, he expressed his concerns about the plane, describing it as “falling to pieces” and expressing his fear. Sala urged his friends to alert everyone if they did not hear from him in an hour and a half.

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The harrowing message revealed Sala’s sense of urgency and fear for his safety during the ill-fated flight, adding a heart-wrenching element to the tragedy that unfolded, leaving the football world in shock and mourning the loss of a talented player.


Disappearing Into Thin Air

Emiliano Sala’s aircraft was last heard at about 8:30 p.m. local time off the coast of Alderney, Guernsey, at a height of 2,300 feet. Few persons were known to be joining Sala on his private jet trip, and their identities remained unclear.

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Interestingly, Sala was the sole passenger reported on the single-engine Piper PA-46 Malibu. Many questions were left unanswered, and a profound feeling of loss was felt due to the terrible occurrence, which was made all the more enigmatic by the circumstances behind the plane’s disappearance and the absence of information regarding the other passengers.


News Began to Spread Like Wildfire

Guernsey Police immediately began searching for the jet as it vanished from radar screens off the island. However, activities were halted around 2 a.m. on the night of the disappearance due to the terrible weather conditions. The odds of survival dropped dramatically as the morning of January 22 progressed.

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Rapid reports surfaced of Emiliano Sala’s disappearance, and it was eventually established that just Sala and the pilot were on the plane. The football community was stunned by the news of Sala’s absence and has expressed deep worry for his safety.


Finding Sala Became a Priority

Football players, fans, and commentators all showed their grave worry for Emiliano Sala, and emotions ran high. Fans in Nantes, his old club, and Cardiff, where Sala was slated to go as a player, began leaving flowers outside the stadiums.

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The hunt for Sala and the pilot, which has covered more than 1,700 square miles, has forced the cancellation of training and games. Many were shocked and devastated when Guernsey Police announced the search was over on January 24. The news shook the football world as tributes and condolences poured in for Sala and his family.


Gone But Not Forgotten

It was widely reported that both Emiliano Sala and David Ibbotson perished in the plane disaster. Fans hoisted banners with things like “We love you, Emi,” “For you, Emiliano,” and “Forever a Bluebird” during vigils held on both sides of the Channel after Sala’s death.

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Fans and other athletes were devastated by Sala’s death, and they continue to hold his memory dear. Former teammates in Nantes wore photographs of him on their jerseys. As a moving homage to the outstanding player, who had left an indelible impression on the club and the football world at large, Nantes chose to retire Sala’s number nine shirt.


Some Questions Were Finally Answered

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) made a significant discovery on January 30 in their hunt for missing footballer Emiliano Sala when they discovered two plane seat cushions on a French beach. On February 3, four days after the jet went missing, authorities launched an underwater search and found the plane’s remains and a single body within hours.

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In the end, Sala’s family and friends were finally able to mourn in peace once the wreckage was found. The local coroner used fingerprints to correctly identify Sala’s death on February 7. David Ibbotson’s remains have sadly never been located.


Additional Information That Broke Some Hearts

Sala’s body was found in the rubble four days after his death, and the autopsy confirmed that he had died from “head and trunk injuries.” The footballing world was rocked by news of his sudden demise, and the remains were returned to Argentina later that month.

Source: Emilianosala9/Instagram

This news utterly crushed his parents, and they joined the ranks of the mourners at his burial, where they vowed never to stop fighting for justice on behalf of their son.


An Arrest Was Made Over Sala’s Demise

A 64-year-old man named David Henderson was taken into custody by Dorset Police on June 19 in connection with the death of Emiliano Sala. He was accused of murder by unlawful means. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) released a toxicology analysis of Sala’s remains on August 14, finding a 58% saturation of carboxyhemoglobin, the threshold at which fatality is assumed to have occurred.

Source: Twitter

It raised doubts regarding pilot David Ibbotson’s fate and indicated that there may have been a gas leak in the jet’s cockpit just before it crashed.


A Little Bit of Justice Served

David Henderson was found guilty and imprisoned after a lengthy legal struggle between the Sala family and numerous organizations involved in Emiliano’s terrible demise. With the AAIB’s investigation complete, the inquest scheduled in Bournemouth Town Hall in the spring of 2022 can finally get underway.

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The Sala family is hoping that the inquest will help them find closure. The Sala family has stated their desire to continue their civil case once the inquest is concluded to hold those responsible for the loss of their son to account and bring them justice.