Married dad-of-three Dave Ibbotson, 60, is believed to have been at the controls when the single turbine-engined Piper PA-46 Malibu disappeared off the Channel Islands.
Mr Ibbotson, from Scunthorpe, N.Lincs, had been carrying Sala, Cardiff City's new record signing, from Nantes, France, to Wales to be unveiled when the aircraft got into difficulties.
Facebook posts shared from Nantes Airport days before the flight departed on Monday night show Mr Ibbotson talking about being 'a bit rusty with the ILS (Instrument Landing System)'.
The pliot wrote: "Was not to (sic) bad when I got there but I'm a bit rusty with the ils, in France now."
A friend replied: "Rusty with the ILS?! I can't believe that!"
Mr Ibbotson added: "You wanna bet, a little on the high side hehe, better than on the low side."
Sala sent audio messages about the "bumpy ride" he was having as the plane hit bad weather near Guernsey on Monday.
It lost contact near the Casquets lighthouse and vanished at 2,300ft at 8.30pm.
Cardiff City chairman Mehmet Dalman said Sala had "made his own arrangements" to make the trip from Nantes, where he had played before agreeing his switch to the Premier League.
The plane is understood to belong to Scottish football agent Willie McKay, who was involved in brokering the transfer.
Sadly, I really don't think, personally, there is any hope.
Today searches were resuming in the Channel for the wreckage, but experts fear neither man is likely to have survived.
Channel Islands Air Search said the search has now become a 'recovery operation' with chief officer John Fitzgerald adding there was "no hope" of finding Sala and Mr Ibbotson alive.
He said: "Sadly, I really don't think, personally, there is any hope. At this time of year the conditions out there are pretty horrendous if you are actually in the water."
Guernsey Police said earlier today rescue crews are prioritising their search on the possibility the missing pair landed on water and made it into a life raft.
Other theories of how the pilot and footballer may have survived include that they landed elsewhere or were picked up by a passing ship but have not made contact.
But officers admitted the chances the pair survived are 'slim' – with the fourth option that the plane broke up and they died at sea the most likely.
The UK's aviation regulator said the light aircraft is unlikely to have been fitted with a black box recorder.
HAUNTING LAST MESSAGES
The Argentine ace sent panicked WhatsApp voice messages to his pals as conditions rapidly worsened while he was in the air, Argentinian newspaper Ole reported.
He wrote: "Boys, I'm here on top of the plane that looks like it's about to fall apart. And I'm going to Cardiff, crazy, tomorrow we already started. In the afternoon we started to train, boys, in my new team.”
Sala later sent another message saying: “If you do not have any more news from in an hour and a half, I don’t know if they need to send someone to find me… I am getting scared!”
The footballer’s dad confirmed that his son could be heard in the recording.
Sala also text his friends to say the plane was making "weird noises".
I don’t know if they need to send someone to find me… I am getting scared!
Meanwhile, Sala’s model ex-girlfriend today sensationally claimed the “football mafia” is behind the doomed plane crash in the Channel.
Berenice Schkair, 27, said her “heart is broken” and she is “destroyed” after hearing the plane her former partner was on vanished on its way to Cardiff.
In an emotional post on social media, she wrote: “I want to wake up and all of this to be a lie. Please investigate because I cannot believe this accident.
“Don’t suspend the search for bad weather when you only just found objects floating. I need to read that you have shown up."
She later added: "Investigate the football mafia because I don’t believe this was an accident.”
RESCUE CREWS SCOURING THE CHANNEL
The plane had been flying at 5,000ft but requested to land while passing Guernsey.
It was last detected at 2,300ft when they lost contact with Jersey air traffic controllers just off Alderney at 8.30pm on Monday.
Sources told The Sun that the Piper PA-46 Malibu plane, which was travelling from Nantes to Cardiff, only managed to take off after up to four attempts.
Coastguard helicopters and lifeboats scoured 1,100 square miles of sea before stopping the search at nightfall on Tuesday.
Coastal areas around Alderney and off-lying rocks and islands will also be searched from the air, police said.
While the American-made Piper-P46 Malibu generally has a good safety record, there have been instances of such planes crashing in bad weather.
Sala made a poignant social media post saying his "last goodbye" just hours before his plane went missing.
Cardiff's record signing completed his £15million move to the Premier League club over the weekend to help boost their fight to avoid relegation.
The 28-year-old then made a quick trip back to North-West France where he wanted to collect some belongings before making his permanent switch to Wales.
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