PROGRESO, Feb 15 — The coffin of footballer Emiliano Sala, who died in a plane crash between Nantes and Cardiff, arrived in Argentina today ahead of his funeral in his hometown of Progreso.
The British Airways flight carrying the body landed shortly after 9am (1200 GMT) at Buenos Aires airport. A van waited to drive it to funeral ceremonies in northeastern Santa Fe, the capital of Santa Fe province, before it is returned to the family for final rites tomorrow.
“This is a day of historic grief for Progreso. We could never have imagined this, we are all in a state of shock,” said Daniel Ribero, president of the San Martin de Progreso club, where Sala played for 10 years.
Sala’s body was recovered from the plane wreckage in the English Channel last week. He was flying to his new team, English Premier League side Cardiff City, from his old French club Nantes when his plane went missing on January 21.
The 28-year-old died of “head and trunk injuries,” an inquest in England heard on Monday.
He was traveling in a light aircraft that disappeared near the British island of Guernsey.
The wreckage was found on the seabed but 59-year-old pilot David Ibbotson remains missing.
Nantes gave Sala a rousing send off on Sunday, playing a French league match in a special all black kit for the occasion, with each player wearing the Argentine’s name on the back of their jersey rather than their own.
Sala’s wake is due to begin at 7am tomorrow with most of Progreso’s 3,000 inhabitants expected to pay their respects by laying a flower on the coffin.
The wake will take place in the San Martin club’s gym before Sala’s body is transported to a crematorium in Santa Fe.
“The last time he came here, during the World Cup in Russia, he asked to join us for our barbecue at the club,” said Ribeiro, pointing to Sala’s humility and simplicity.
Representatives of Nantes and Cardiff will attend Sala’s funeral. The two clubs are locked in a dispute over whether Cardiff should pay Sala’s €17 million (RM78.3 million) transfer fee.
Sala’s fame in Progreso cannot be overstated.
The son of a truck driver and housewife, he made his senior debut for the local club at just 15.
“He was a wisp, skinny, he was only 15 but you could tell he had a future, he loved to train,” said Daniel Demonte, the reserve team coach at San Martin.
“While his friends went for a barbecue, he went for a run.”
Demonte said Sala’s greatest dream had been to play in the English Premier League, something that seemed about to become a reality.
Sala was “the club’s pride and joy,” said fan Alexis Lovato.
“Last year, he went to watch the kids at training, he was generous.
“He never forgot where he came from. He could have chosen other destinations around the world but he came back to Progreso whenever he could.” — AFP