CHRISTIAN Atsu's body was flown home to Ghana today as tributes poured in for the ex-Premier League ace.
The 31-year-old ex-Newcastle and Chelsea player was found dead under the rubble 12 days after a devastating 7.8-magnitude quake rocked Turkey.
He had been scheduled to fly out of the country hours before the quake struck at 4am local time.
But the Ghana star reportedly cancelled his flight to stay with teammates after scoring the dramatic game-winning goal in a Super Lig match the day before on February 5.
After 12 days of desperately searching for Atsu, his manager said his body was tragically discovered buried in the rubble on Saturday.
His body was flown back to his native Ghana hours later.
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His agent Nana Sechere said: "It is with the heaviest of hearts that I have to announce to all well wishers that sadly Christian Atsu's body was recovered this morning.
"My deepest condolences go to his family and loved ones. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their prayers and support."
Rescue workers found Atsu's body where he was staying at Ronesans Residence – a 12-storey block of luxury flats that toppled over in Antakya city in Hatay.
Tributes have poured in for the midfielder, with his club describing him as a "beautiful person".
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Players across the UK also held a minute's silence or a minute's applause before kick off in a touching tribute to the star.
Hatayspor, who Atsu signed with in September, said: "We will never forget you, Atsu.
"Peace be upon you, beautiful person. There are no words to describe our sadness."
Atsu began his Premier League career with Chelsea, before moving on to Newcastle United and Everton.
Terry, who captained the team at the time, tweeted a picture of Atsu alongside the message: "RIP my friend."
Another member of the Chelsea squad at the time, Michael Essien, said: "Rest well king."
Cesc Fabregas and Michy Batshuayi also paid tribute to Atsu.
And Dwight Gayle said: "It was a pleasure to share our time together and you was one of the nicest people I’ve met in football from opening schools back home to just having a constant smile day to day.
"The world needs more people like you and you will be truly missed. RIP brother."
Former Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given added: "Terrible sad news about Christian Atsu. Thoughts and prayers with his family and friends."
Newcastle United described Atsu as a "talented player and a special person".
"We are profoundly saddened to learn that Christian Atsu has tragically lost his life in Turkey's devastating earthquakes," it said.
"A talented player and a special person, he will always be fondly remembered by our players, staff and supporters."
There were initial reports the midfielder had been rescued a day after the quake, but these turned out to be false.
Earlier footage showed rescuers with search lights sifting through the wreckage of Atsu’s apartment block on the first night of the natural disaster.
His voice was then heard in the rubble, along with that of Hatayspor’s Sporting Director Taner Savut, local reports said.
Atsu, who has three kids with wife Marie-Claire, spent four seasons at Chelsea before a permanent transfer to Newcastle in 2017.
He signed in September for Turkish Super Lig side Hatayspor.
Several members of his new team had to be rescued from their homes after the earthquake struck at 4am local time.
The massive 7.8 magnitude quake stuck early on February 6.
Two further earthquakes struck in the 24 hours after the initial tremor, leaving a trail of destruction.
More than 43,000 people are now believed to have died in Turkey and Syria.
And freezing conditions and difficulty getting aid to remote areas is fuelling a further humanitarian disaster.
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The United Nations regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria Muhannad Hadi said the death toll in the country is set to rise as teams scramble to reach buildings in hard-hit areas.
The Sun Earthquake Appeal, which we launched to support the Red Cross, has now raised over £1 million with readers donating £110,000.
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