Emiliano Sala: Pilot told friend the plane was ‘shady’ before Cardiff City footballer’s fatal flight

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

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The pilot of a plane in which footballer Emiliano Sala died called the plane “sleazy” and vowed to wear his life jacket before the fatal flight.

An inquest in March found the Argentinian-born striker died of head and chest injuries but was deeply unconscious after being poisoned by fumes from the engine’s faulty exhaust system. Piper Malibu, the evening of January 21, 2019.

The 28-year-old was flying from Nantes in France to Wales to join Premier League club Cardiff City when the plane crashed in the English Channel near Guernsey, also killing 59-year-old pilot David Ibbotson.

Recently released audio from the BBC’s Transfer: The Emiliano Sala Story podcast shows Mr Ibbotson appeared to have concerns about the plane after the outbound flight from Cardiff to Nantes.

“I picked up a footballer from Cardiff. He was just bought from Nantes for, I think it was around £20m or something,” he said in a voicemail message to his friend Kevin Jones.

“They entrusted me with the task of collecting it from a dodgy (plane).

“Normally I have my life jacket between my seats but tomorrow I’m wearing my life jacket for sure,” he added.

This plane needs to go back to the hangar

David Ibbotson

Mr Ibbotson, whose body was never found, was only an amateur pilot and was not licensed to carry passengers or fly at night.

He told Mr Jones before leaving Nantes that he had heard “a bang” during the outbound flight.

“I’m in the middle of the Channel and ‘bang’,” the pilot said in the recording.

“I fly and then ‘boom’. I thought, ‘what’s wrong?’ So I put everything forward and checked my settings, everything was fine and it was still flying, but it caught your eye.

He said, “This Malibu, sometimes you kind of have a haze once in a while. You can feel it, very, very low throughout the cell.

David Henderson was jailed for 18 months last year (Jacob King/PA)

(PA Archive)

‘This plane needs to go back into the hangar,’ he added to Mr Jones, after realizing the plane’s left brake pedal was not working when it landed at Nantes airport Atlantic.

Pilot and businessman David Henderson, 67, managed the single-engine plane on behalf of its owner and arranged the flights, pilots and maintenance, although he was not the legally registered operator.

Football agent Willie McKay, who was helping his son Mark’s company represent Nantes on the transfer, was a long-time client.

Mr McKay arranged the flights and said he wanted to help Sala get back to Nantes to say goodbye to his team-mates, claiming Cardiff City had ‘abandoned’ him.

He denied knowingly arranging illegal ‘grey’ flights with Mr Henderson, who did not have an air operator certificate (AOC) allowing him to carry fare-paying passengers.

In addition to not having an AOC, Mr. Henderson kept no records or invoices for his company, nor the qualifications of the pilots who flew for him.

Mr Ibbotson had also reported the loud bang between Cardiff and Nantes to Mr Henderson – but an engineer was never asked to investigate when the plane landed in France.

He had been banned from flying the Piper Malibu by its owner following two airspace violations months earlier, but Mr Henderson allowed him to continue.

Last year, Mr Henderson was jailed for 18 months after being found guilty of endangering the safety of an aircraft using the services of Mr Ibbotson when he knew he had no not the necessary licenses.

He admitted another offense for attempting to arrange a flight for a passenger without permission or authorization.

Following the March inquest findings, a coroner has pledged to write to the government and the sports industry raising concerns about illegal ‘grey’ passenger flights.

Rachael Griffin, Dorset’s senior coroner, said she was so concerned about private charters carrying paying passengers that she had a duty to alert authorities and ask whether the Civil Aviation Authority had enough power to investigate illegal thefts.

Last month, Cardiff was ordered to pay the first installment of Sala’s transfer fee after the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled the deal was done before his death.

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Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at cablefreetv.org

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