Grieving Argentines have paid tribute to Cardiff City soccer player Emiliano Sala at a special memorial in his home region of Santa Fe.
The body of 28-year old Sala, who died in a plane crash last month, was laid out in a gymnasium in the town where he grew up so friends and family could pay their last respects on Saturday.
A single-engine plane carrying Sala from his French club Nantes to his new team Cardiff City crashed on January 21 in the English Channel, before he could make his debut for the English Premier League side.
Wreckage was found on February 3 following a privately funded underwater search, and a body was recovered three days later.
Sala’s body was flown to Argentina and arrived in Buenos Aires on Friday morning before being driven the 538km to Progreso, where he grew up.
The gymnasium of the Atletico y Social San Martin de Progreso club hosted boys’ teams where Sala played as a child.
Residents in the town of around 2500 people, many wearing the red and black shirt of the local side with the name EMI on the back, began arriving about 7am on Saturday to see Sala’s body and pay their last respects.
Outside, fans draped a banner saying, ‘Emi, nunca caminaras solo’ or ‘Emi, You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
“It’s as if he was a member of my family,” said a sobbing Lucia Torres, who lives nearby.
“It’s something I can’t understand nor accept because it hurts so much. The town has been in darkness since January 21.” Cardiff manager Neil Warnock and the Welsh club’s chief executive Ken Choo are among those who will attend the funeral this weekend.
“I would like to find a responsible person … someone who says to me, ‘this happened’, but, well, it seems this was just an accident,” Sala’s aunt Mirta Taffarel said.