Hometown of missing Argentine footballer prays for his safe return

Buenos Aires


Residents of the small agricultural town in northeastern Argentina where footballer Emiliano Sala grew up gathered for prayers after learning that he was one of two people aboard an aircraft that went missing over the English Channel.

Daniel Ribero, president of local football club San Martin de Progreso, where Sala played as boy, told EFE that the day held "a lot of uncertainty" for residents of Progreso.

"We went from a moment of euphoria when he signed with Cardiff City to this totally unexpected situation. We are trying to process it," he said on Tuesday, reports Efe news.

The single-turbine PA 46 Malibu aircraft carrying Sala from Nantes, France, to Cardiff, Wales, disappeared from radar screens at 8.23pm Monday some 24km (15mi) north of the island of Guernsey, police in the British crown dependency said.

Cardiff City, who play in the Premier League, signed the 28-year-old striker from Ligue 1 side FC Nantes for a club-record 15 million pounds ($19.4 million).

The plane, belonging to Cardiff City's owner, was on its way back to the Welsh capital after Sala's quick trip to Nantes to bid farewell to his former teammates.

Ribero described Sala as a humble and low-key person and recalled seeing the player when he returned to Progreso in 2017 for the 100th anniversary of San Martin and again last year for a barbecue during the 2018 World Cup.

Sala joined San Martin as a 6-year-old and remained with the club until he was 15, when he went to France and began the professional career that brought him to Nantes.

"In 100 years of the club's history, he is the first player from San Martin de Progreso to go so far," Ribero said.

Hundreds of Progreso residents spontaneously gathered to pray for Sala after hearing the news Tuesday morning, among them was Rita Rinaldi, one of Sala's teachers at the local school.