Sala crash pilot not authorised to fly at night, court hears

Plane's operator has pleaded not guilty to endangering safety of single-engine jet

The pilot of the plane that crashed killing Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala did not hold a licence to fly at night, a British court heard on Wednesday.

David Ibbotson, 59, was killed alongside the 28-year-old striker when the single-engine Piper Malibu plane came down in the Channel en route from Nantes, north-west France, to Cardiff.

The plane's operator, David Henderson, 67, is standing trial at Cardiff Crown Court, accused of endangering the safety of the plane. He has pleaded not guilty.

He pleaded guilty to a separate charge of attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or authorisation.

John Overall, of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), told the court Ibbotson's certification to fly the Piper Malibu had expired in November 2018 — two months before the fatal crash.

He also said he could not find any record of him being permitted to fly at night.

But the prosecution alleged that Mr Henderson knew that Ibbotson was not authorised to fly at night in August 2018 and later urged him to obtain the certification.

It was also claimed that he also knew from at least May 2018 that Ibbotson only held a private pilot's licence, which did not allow him to fly commercially.

The plane crashed into the sea at night off the coast of the Channel island of Guernsey on the evening of January 21, 2019, as Ibbotson flew Sala towards the Welsh capital.

The footballer had signed for Cardiff City, who were then in the Premier League, for a record £15 million from French side Nantes.

Fay Keely, who owned the aircraft, earlier told the court that she had emailed Mr Henderson on July 6, 2018, telling him not to use Ibbotson after being contacted by the CAA.

But she later learnt that Mr Henderson had nevertheless hired Ibbotson for a flight with her sister on board a month later.

“He allowed that to happen without my permission,” she stressed.

“No. As far as I was concerned, I had made my feelings clear that he shouldn't be flying the aircraft,” she said when asked by the defence whether she had repeated her warning to Mr Henderson not to use the pilot.

Prosecutor Martin Goudie alleged on Tuesday that Mr Henderson acted negligently or recklessly by organising the flights taking Sala between Nantes and Cardiff and for using Ibbotson, “who was neither qualified nor competent".

A British air accident investigation report published in March last year concluded Ibbotson had not been licensed to fly the plane or to fly at night.

It assessed that he lost control and flew too fast as he tried to avoid bad weather, and that both he and Sala were affected by carbon monoxide poisoning before the crash.

Sala's body was recovered from the seabed the following month but Ibbotson's remains were never found.

Updated: October 20th 2021, 7:12 PM