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Police: Rescue operation for missing Argentine soccer star called off until morning

By Clyde Hughes and Darryl Coote
Police: Rescue operation for missing Argentine soccer star called off until morning
Argentine soccer star Emiliano Sala is missing after a private plane disappeared near the Channel Islands late Monday. File Photo by Ian Langsdon/EPA-EFE

Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Search and rescue operations for Argentina soccer star Emiliano Sala who was aboard a private plane that disappeared late Monday near the Channel Islands were suspended Tuesday evening, officials said.

"Search and rescue operations have been suspended as the sun has now set. The current plan is for it to resume at sunrise tomorrow," Guernsey Police said in a tweet.

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A total of 1,155-square miles near the Channel Islands were searched Tuesday by "multiple air and sea assets from the Channel Islands, U.K. and France" over 15 hours, Guernsey Police said.

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A number of floating objects were located but police said they were unable to confirm whether they were the missing aircraft.

The Piper Malibu plane was en route from Nantes, France, to Cardiff City in Wales when it dropped from radar above the islands, which are located just off the west coast of France, civil aviation authorities said.

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"Sala was aboard this aircraft," an aviation spokeswoman said in a report by The Guardian. "The search for it is continuing and that is all I can say."

Emergency crews began a search and rescue operation in the English Channel Monday night in poor conditions, and it continued Tuesday. Britain's HM Coastguard said it sent two helicopters to assist the Guernsey Coastguard.

David Barker, harbor master for the island of Guernsey, said the plane did not issue a distress call before it disappeared off the radar. He added that it's possible the plane diverted somewhere.

"The weather conditions are better now but the sea water is not very warm," he said. "It is concerning because if they're in the water their chances of surviving are diminishing all the time."

Sala, 28, had just joined Cardiff City in Britain's Premier League for a contract worth nearly $20 million. He was set to meet with teammates Tuesday. He returned to France to say goodbye to his former team in Nantes. The Cardiff City website said the deal was over 3 and-a-half years.

"I'm very happy to be here," the Argentina native said after signing the contract. "It gives me great pleasure and I can't wait to start training, meet my new teammates and get down to work.

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"I have come here wanting to work and to help my teammates and the club. I can't wait to get to work straight away and do everything I can."

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