Social Media and the Search for Sala


When newly signed Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala’s plane disappeared over the English Channel on 21st January, news spread like wildfire across social media. The trending #prayforsala hashtag sparked an outpouring of hopeful messages.

The plane, piloted by David Ibbotson, was flying from Nantes (Sala’s former club) to Cardiff, when it went missing shortly after requesting to land. Rescue efforts were called off by the police after four days of searching, and due to the type of aircraft the government’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) decided not to search for the plane. This decision provoked campaigning and petitions on social media for the continuation of the search. The Sala family started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a secondary search operation, turning to social media and Sala’s worldwide fans for support. The GoFundMe page was widely shared, and became the most visited page on the entire site. It received contributions from top football players such as Mbappe, who at one stage was the only person to better Sala’s goals-to-minutes ratio in Europe’s top leagues. Over £260,000 was raised, enough to fund a private search directed by shipwreck hunter David Mearns.

The search commenced on 3rd February and centred around the last recorded radar position of the plane, approximately 20 miles north of Guernsey. After the overwhelming response on social media, the AAIB also decided to send out a vessel in search of the missing plane. Despite adverse sea conditions, the plane wreckage was eventually found by geophysicist Brian Critchley, using high-tech underwater surveying equipment on board the privately funded vessel, led by David Mearns. The plane’s location was confirmed by the AAIB using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), and a body was discovered in the wreckage. Two days later the body was successfully recovered and formally identified as Emiliano Sala.

The connection and online presence of Sala’s supporters had a crucial role in bringing closure to the case, and peace of mind to the Sala family:

Seeing the whole world mobilised to support us in our research has been an infinitely precious help.

Messages of remembrance and recognition were shared across social media as news spread of Sala’s passing. Sala’s tragic “final goodbye” Instagram picture, posted the day he went missing, that sees him with his former team Nantes, now has thousands of comments commemorating his life. His profile picture poignantly already featured him holding up the blue Cardiff City shirt with pride. Despite his blossoming career being prematurely cut short, Sala made his mark as a driven and passionate young man, and he will be remembered with much admiration.

At the time of writing, David Ibbotson’s body has sadly not yet been found. His family set up a GoFundMe page in an attempt to fund a subsequent search. This raised more than £250,000. Hopefully, his body will be found and returned to his loved ones. It has emerged in recent weeks that Mr Ibbotson was not licensed to fly at night due to being colour-blind.

The tragic event has truly demonstrated the positive power of social media in times of crisis, and its ability to bring people together for a good cause. At times of crisis, the human ability to come together has always been our greatest strength in the face of adversity. So while social media may exacerbate our deepest flaws, it also reflects our most positive traits.


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