The bereft sister of missing $29 million footballer Emiliano Sala sobbed today after she learned the search for him was called off and said: 'I know he's still alive. He would never give up'.

The star striker's sibling Romina broke down at a press conference in Cardiff this afternoon after flying into the Welsh capital from Argentina to meet his club bosses.

Investigators are to probe the licence of missing part-time pilot Dave Ibbotson who flew the doomed aircraft that vanished over the Channel, Dail Mail reported today.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) has confirmed it will look into whether the flight chartered by the son of mega-agent Willie McKay was legal.


The six-seater Piper Malibu vanished off the coast of Alderney on Monday at 8.30pm but 72 hours on harbour master Captain David Barker said air and sea searches are over because 'the chances of survival at this stage are extremely remote'.

Ships passing through the Channel are now being asked to look out for debris - but Sala's family are furious at the decision to stop searching for the 28-year-old.

In emotional scenes today outside the St David's Hotel in Cardiff, Romina Sala begged: "Please, please, please don't stop the search."

She told the media: "We understand the facts and we really appreciate the efforts.

"We want to say thanks to the two clubs and everyone who is looking for Emiliano, but my message is please, please, please don't stop with the search. For me, they are still alive.

"It is very difficult to express my feelings at the moment because it is really hard.

"We have had a lot of support from the two clubs and I thank all the fans for their efforts, but deep down in the bottom of my heart I know that Emiliano – who is a fighter – is still alive.

"I know Emiliano and the pilot are somewhere in the middle of the channel. We are not going to give up."


She added: "The last time I spoke to him was on Monday before he said farewell to the Nantes players. He was really excited about coming to Cardiff and we were talking all day."

Captain Barker responded by saying: "I understand Emiliano Sala's family are not content. But I am absolutely confident we could not have done any more".

Dave Ibbotson holds a British private pilot's licence that allows him to fly passengers between airports as long as he doesn't profit from any journey.

But if he was paid a fee amounting to more than his fuel costs and expenses to take Sala between France and Britain would be classed a commercial flight.

It came as the missing Premier League star's heartbroken sister Romina met with Cardiff City officials, including manager Neil Warnock, having flown in from Argentina overnight as hope fades for her brother.

This afternoon a pilot involved in the search for the missing plane said there is 'no chance' of finding survivors.

Mike Tidd, from Channel Islands Air Search, told ITV: 'The area has been very well covered, there is absolutely no chance of finding anybody alive now, the only thing that we might be able to do would be to pinpoint where the aircraft went in, but I think the radar trace is going to be the best opportunity of doing that.'

Mr Ibbotson passed his pilot's test in America in 2014. The Federal Aviation Authority register in the US says he holds a British private pilot's licence not a commercial licence needed for scheduled or 'paid for' flights.

Romina Sala, the sister of Emiliano Sala, centre, talks during press conference at St David's Hotel in Cardiff, Wales, Thursday Jan. 24, 2019. Photo / AP
Romina Sala, the sister of Emiliano Sala, centre, talks during press conference at St David's Hotel in Cardiff, Wales, Thursday Jan. 24, 2019. Photo / AP

An AAIB spokesman said today that as part of its investigation they will 'establish the details of the booking and its operational arrangements'.

As part of the probe the Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates pilots' licences, will also be asked to confirm Mr Ibbotson had the instrument qualifications to fly 'blind' at night or bad weather and was properly insured.

The CAA today said it could not discuss the case or the missing pilot's licence for data protection reasons.

Mark McKay, who was acting on behalf of Sala's club FC Nantes, chartered the flight and Sala's French agent Meissa N'Diaye also helped with the arrangements.

It is understood they used a company to organise the flight.

Mr Ibbotson, a gas engineer from Scunthorpe, was one of the roster of three or four pilots regularly used to fly footballers to France and may also have carried jockeys between race meetings.

Mr McKay said in a statement last night: '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 on Monday and train on Tuesday.'

If investigators believe the doomed flight breached the Air Navigation Order act the Civil Aviation Authority has the power prosecute any individual involved in a booking.

Past cases have seen pilots or aviation companies who organised the flights in the dock - so is unlikely to lead to Mr McKay or Mr N'Dyiaye facing prosecution.

Previous cases have led to large fines and prison sentences of up to a year.

Mr Ibbotson, understood to be a part-time pilot who has also worked as a gas engineer and wedding DJ, is said to have flown Sala to Wales when the footballer agreed to sign last Friday.

The 60-year-old, whose nickname is 'Dibbo', has three children and lives with wife Nora near Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, and according to his Facebook account he checked into a hotel next to Nantes Airport on Saturday night and stayed until Monday.

He is said to be a highly-experienced pilot who specialises in private flights and parachute expeditions but it is unclear how many hours he has flown.

The law does allow private licence pilots to fly strangers who agree to help cover the cost of the trip - but crucially the pilot must prove they were planning to fly to the destination already and cannot make any profit on top.

The loophole has led to the rise of Uber-inspired websites connecting passengers with pilots to reduce the price of private flights between the UK and Europe from around £10,000 to £1,000 or less.

The most popular website offering this service is Wingly, who told the Daily Mail that Sala's flight was not booked through them.

Cardiff City today reiterated that it offered to get Sala to the UK from Paris - but the player told them he already had a flight booked.

Club CEO Ken Choo said: 'We made offers for Emiliano to fly on commercial [flights] from Paris but the player said 'don't worry about that, I have alternative arrangements, I will see you at the [training] ground on Tuesday.

'He requested our club officials pick him up from the airport in Cardiff on Monday night after touchdown at 8.45pm.

'On hindsight, we should have pushed but we had communicated with the player and we had to respect the wishes of the player. "I think that is very important, we did not want to make the player uncomfortable on any arrangements'.

The missing plane carrying football star Emiliano Sala may have stalled in mid air and crashed into the sea due to a deadly build-up of ice on the wings, aviation experts have said.

The Sun reported that one aviation expert said: 'There are reports that the footballer was texting saying the aircraft is shaking and breaking up are classic signs of icing on the wings'.

'The pilot is most likely wrestling with a stall at 2,300ft.

'It is likely, though, that the aircraft hit the water in one piece otherwise debris would have quickly been found.'

The single-prop plane had been flying at 5,000 feet before requesting a descent to 2,300ft from Jersey's air traffic controllers. It reached that lower altitude before dropping off radar without any further radio contact.

Mr Sala's heartbroken underwear model ex-girlfriend today blamed the 'football mafia' after his plane vanished over the Channel and said: 'I can't believe this is an accident'.

Victoria's Secret star Berenice Schkair, 27, made the extraordinary claim on social media after the new Cardiff City star's plane went missing over the English Channel after taking off in Nantes, France.

On Twitter last night Berenice tweeted: 'Investigate the football mafia because I don't believe this was an accident' before deleting it.

Lifeboats, helicopters and even locals in fishing boats have been scouring the sea for him - but have had to stop between dusk and dawn.

Posting photographs of them together, she wrote on Instagram: 'Emi, my heart is broken. I still cannot understand it. I'm destroyed, I feel pain, fear and anger for not being able to do anything. I know you're strong. We are waiting for you.

'I want to wake up and all of this to be a lie. Please investigate because I cannot believe this is an accident. Don't suspend the search for bad weather when you only just found objects floating.

'The thing I regret most is not having told you that you made me feel like I haven't felt in a while and I love you. Why does this misfortune happen to such a fascinating man full of projects, hard working, a good person dedicated to his job'.

Guernsey Police said today they are 'prioritising' the theory that the new £15million Cardiff City player and the pilot made it out of the wreckage found floating in the Channel last night.

They are also working on three other possibilities - that the plane was grounded on dry land either in the Channel Islands or France, the pilot and Sala were picked up by a passing ship or they are dead in the water.

Emiliano's father broke down 'in despair' today after hearing his son's final message where he warned he was 'scared' on board a 'plane that seems like it is falling to pieces' minutes before it vanished over the Channel.

In the chilling recording on Monday night the Argentine footballer, 28, sounds exhausted and can't stop yawning as he tells loved ones in Spanish they may need to 'send someone to find me'.

Before the 'bumpy' flight began the pilot needed up to four attempts to take-off from Nantes in Brittany at 7.15pm as he prepared to start his new life in Cardiff after a £15million transfer.

In a final WhatsApp audio message sent to his friends, where the sound of the plane's engine is heard in the background, Sala said: 'I was over in Nantes sorting things out.

'I am now aboard a plan that seems like it is falling to pieces. I'm going to Cardiff now, crazy, and tomorrow we get going. I will train with my new team'.

He added: 'If you do not have any more news from in an hour and a half, I don't know if they need to send someone to find me. I am getting scared!'

The former sister-in-law of missing pilot David Ibbotson said she was shocked by the 'awful news'.

Accounts adviser Linda Goodwin said she and her sister Georgina Gymer - the pilot and gas engineer's first wife - had 'no idea' that he was onboard the doomed flight.

She said: 'This is terrible, it's shocking, we had no idea. He is my ex brother-in-law, I was at the wedding. He and my sister are divorced now but they have two children together. She lives in New Zealand and the kids, who are grown up, are in England. He got re-married.'

Ms Goodwin from Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, added: 'My sister will be devastated, this is awful news for both families, for all of us. I heard about the missing footballer but had no idea that Dave was the pilot. No one told us, I'm quite numb. He's a nice guy and I knew him well. It's so sad.'