Bournemouth. Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala’s family grieved on Friday after British authorities formally identified his body as the one recovered from the wreckage of a plane that went down in the Channel more than two weeks ago.
“We can now begin to mourn our son and our brother,” the Cardiff City striker’s family said in a statement.
“We would like to thank you for all of your signs of affection and support in the most painful time of our life.
“To see everyone doing everything possible to join us in the search has been a precious help to us.”
Argentine footballing idols Diego Maradona and Gabriel Batistuta also paid tribute to 28-year-old Sala.
His French former club, Nantes, said it was retiring Sala’s number nine jersey.
All matches in France’s top two divisions this weekend will be preceded by a minute of applause for him. The light aircraft carrying Sala from Nantes to his new club disappeared near the British island of Guernsey on January 21. The only other person on board was the aircraft’s 59-year-old pilot David Ibbotson, who has not been found.
The player’s body was first spotted by British rescuers using a remotely operated underwater vehicle on Sunday, close to where the plane vanished from radar.
Investigators recovered the body on Wednesday and transported it to the southern English coast. It was taken to Bournemouth where it was formally identified.
Investigators said they were abandoning plans to lift the plane wreckage out of the water due to bad weather.
- ‘Rest in peace, warrior’ -
Sala’s disappearance sparked an outpouring of grief and a flood of cash to support a private hunt for the plane when the official search was initially called off.
“I am very sorry about this sad news. Many of us kept a glimmer of hope for you, Emiliano,” football icon Maradona said on Instagram, following the identification of the body.
“What sadness, this is the worst news. Rest in peace warrior,” tweeted former Argentina striker Batistuta. Manchester City and current Argentina striker Sergio Aguero also expressed his condolences.
The country’s President Mauricio Macri also mourned the “painful news”.
“We are with you,” he said.
The small Argentine town of Progreso, where the footballer lived for most of his childhood, was also in mourning.
“Since we found out, it’s all anyone can talk about,” said local restaurant owner Oscar Heymo, a friend of Sala’s father Horacio.
“He was very much loved and admired by all.”
In Cardiff, the club’s manager Neil Warnock said Southampton and Cardiff City players would wear black armbands in their English Premier League match on Saturday and a minute’s silence would be observed before kick-off. (AFP)