Emiliano Sala plane crash: footballer’s family have unanswered questions about events that led to his death

The family of footballer Emiliano Sala, who died in a plane crash, welcomed the conviction of David Henderson, the businessman who organised the flight

The family of footballer Emiliano Sala still have unanswered questions over the events which led to his death in a plane crash, their solicitor said.

The striker died after the small plane carrying him crashed into the English Channel on the evening on 21 January 2019, the pilot David Ibbotson who also died, did not have a qualification to fly at night or a commercial pilot’s licence.

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The businessman who organised the flight, David Henderson, was found guilty of endangering the safety of an aircraft, after a trial at Cardiff Crown Court, he now faces a jail sentence.

Mr Sala had been making his way from his French club in Nantes to Cardiff City, who had signed him in a multimillion-pound transfer deal when the plane crashed off the coast of Guernsey.

Henderson had arranged the flight with football agent William ‘Willie’ McKay.

He had asked Ibbotson to fly the plane as he was away on holiday with his wife in Paris. Ibbotson, who regularly flew for him, did not hold a commercial pilot’s licence, a qualification to fly at night, and his rating to fly the single-engine Piper Malibu had expired.

The Piper Malibu aircraft, N264DB, on the ground at Nantes Airport, France, prior to the flight which crashed into the Channel.

‘We hope the CAA will ensure illegal flights of this kind are stopped’

Speaking after a jury at Cardiff Crown Court convicted David Henderson, Daniel Machover, of Hickman & Rose solicitors, said: “Mr Henderson’s convictions are welcome and we hope the CAA will ensure that illegal flights of this kind are stopped. The actions of David Henderson are only one piece in the puzzle of how the plane David Ibbotson was illegally flying came to crash into the sea on 21 January 2019.

“We still do not know the key information about the maintenance history of the aircraft and all the factors behind the carbon monoxide poisoning revealed in August 2019 by AAIB.

“The answers to these questions can only be properly established at Emiliano’s inquest, which is due to start in February next year.

“The Sala family fervently hope that everyone involved in the inquest will provide full disclosure of material without further delay, including Piper Aircraft Inc and the AAIB. This should ensure that the inquest can fulfil its function of fully and fearlessly examining the evidence so that all the facts emerge.

“Only if that happens will Emiliano’s family finally know the truth about this tragedy enabling all the lessons to be learned, so that no family goes through a similar preventable death.”

‘Unlawful and unsafe activity such as Henderson’s is unacceptable’

Kate Staples, general counsel at the CAA, said: “Our thoughts remain with the families and friends that were affected by this accident in January 2019.

“Aviation safety relies upon the integrity of everyone involved in the industry.

“Unlawful and unsafe activity such as Mr Henderson’s is unacceptable and the UK Civil Aviation Authority will always look to prosecute illegal activity.”

Meanwhile, The Air Charter Association also reacted to the outcome, tweeting: “The Air Charter Association welcomes the Court’s ruling of David Henderson being found guilty of attempting to discharge a passenger in the UK without valid permission or authorisation and additionally, guilty of endangering the safety of an aircraft.”

Henderson will be sentenced on 12 November.

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