London -- The search for professional soccer player Emiliano Sala and the pilot of a small plane that went missing between France and Britain was called off after a third day on Thursday, as an apparent audio message from the star striker sent from the plane shows he was scared that it was "falling apart."
Sala, an Argentine national recently added to the roster of Welsh team Cardiff City in the Premier League, was flying over the English Channel on Monday in a single-engine aircraft when it dropped off radar. He was on his way to officially join the team in Wales.
Police on the British island of Guernsey, one of the cluster of Channel Islands which sit closer to the French coast than Britain, said that after no trace of the aircraft was detected by Thursday afternoon, the efforts were being called off. It had already been widely accepted that the chances of finding Sala or his British pilot David Ibbotson alive were slim. The Channel's waters are frigid in the winter and often choppy.
CBS News partner network BBC News acquired an apparent audio message sent by Sala to friends from the plane via WhatsApp. In it, he at first sounds relaxed, even joking, as he talks about his gruelling schedule of the past several days in France, before adding with a yawn that he's on his way to Wales, "in a plane that seems to be falling apart."
As the message continues, Sala says, "we'll see what happens. How are you guys? All good? In an hour and a half if you don't hear anything from me, I don't know if they're going to send anyone to look for me because they're not going to find me. But, you know, papa! I'm so scared." It doesn't seem that he was addressing his father literally when he said "papa," but rather issuing a generic expression of concern.
Police and other search parties scanned the Channel's waters from above, in addition to combing over the Channel Islands for any sign of the plane. Officials say a person could only survive a few hours in the cold water.
Sala's father Horacio Sala told the BBC: "As the hours go by it makes me think of the worse. I just want them to find him."
Tributes have poured in for the striker in both his native Argentina and in Cardiff, where fans have created a makeshift memorial outside the Cardiff stadium.