Businessman jailed in UK over flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala

Sala, 28 and pilot David Ibbotson died when the light aircraft in which they were flying crashed into the sea

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 8, 2019 yellow flowers are displayed in front of the portrait of Argentinian forward Emiliano Sala at the Beaujoire stadium in Nantes.  Cardiff City and former Nantes footballer Emiliano Sala died in a plane crash in the English Channel on January 21, 2019. / AFP / LOIC VENANCE

A businessman has been jailed for 18 months over the plane crash that killed Argentinian footballer Emiliano Sala as he travelled across the English Channel to play in the Premier League.

David Henderson, 67, of Hotham in the East Riding of Yorkshire, was convicted of endangering the safety of the aircraft at Cardiff Crown Court in October.

Henderson pleaded guilty to another charge of trying to arrange a flight for a passenger without permission or authorisation.

Sala, 28, and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, died when the light aircraft in which they were travelling crashed in January 2019.

The flight was organised by Henderson, who was the plane's operator, with football agent William McKay.

Sentencing Henderson, Mr Justice Foxton said: “I have no doubt you were aware that aspects of your operations were unlawful.

“I am unable to accept your evidence that you were in any way reluctant to organise the flight for William McKay.

“You were only too keen to assist Mr McKay, who was a client, and your thoughts soon turned to Mr Ibbotson, even though Mr Ibbotson did not have a licence that permitted him to fly passengers on a commercial basis.

“I'm sure you took close interest in the flights, sending numerous messages to Mr Ibbotson, and I'm sure those communications illustrated a lurking doubt in your mind about whether Mr Ibbotson was up to the job.”

Henderson's wife wept in court on Friday as Mr Justice Foxton sentenced her husband to 18 months in prison for endangering an aircraft, with a three-month sentence, to run concurrently, for attempting to discharge a passenger.

At the time, Sala was involved in a £15 million ($20m) transfer to Welsh club Cardiff City from Nantes FC in France, and was travelling between the two cities when he died.

The justice added Henderson had not raised concerns about Mr Ibbotson's lack of licence to fly at night, after Sala asked to move the flight to a later time.

“I'm sure you did not raise this because you thought it would be damaging to your business. The only concern you raised was about an increase in cost,” Mr Justice Foxton said.

He said that Henderson's financial arrangement with Mr McKay “remained opaque".

“I accept the crash was a hugely distressing experience for you and has had a profound and lasting impact on you.

“Nonetheless, I'm sure in your statement to the CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] you made a number of dishonest statements in an attempt to distance yourself from events.

“In this case, you intentionally breached legislation, disregarded CAA regulations and did so on a premeditated basis and for profit.

“You were reckless and not merely negligent.”

Mr Justice Foxton ruled at the start of the hearing that the victim impact statement by Sala's mother, Mercedes Taffarel, would not be read out in court, after concerns were raised by Henderson's defence about its contents.

Updated: November 12th 2021, 3:37 PM
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