Emiliano Sala pilot told friend plane was ‘dodgy’ before fatal flight
Newly released audio reveals David Ibbotson had concerns about aircraft in run-up to crash in 2019
The pilot of a plane in which the footballer Emiliano Sala died told a friend the aircraft was “dodgy”, after an outward flight from Cardiff to Nantes.
The 28-year-old player was flying from Nantes in France to Wales to join then Premier League club Cardiff City when the plane crashed in the Channel close to Guernsey.
His pilot, 59-year-old David Ibbotson, was also killed. Audio aired on the BBC’s Transfer: The Emiliano Sala Story podcast captures Ibbotson expressing his concerns.
In a voicemail to his friend Kevin Jones, aired on the podcast, Ibbotson can be heard saying: “I picked a footballer up from Cardiff. He’s just been bought from Nantes for, I think it was about, £20m-worth or something.
“They’ve entrusted me to pick him up in a dodgy (aircraft). Normally I have my lifejacket between my seats but tomorrow I’m wearing my lifejacket, that’s for sure.”
An inquest in March found the Argentina-born striker was unconscious when he died from head and chest injuries on the evening of 21 January 2019, having been poisoned by fumes from the Piper Malibu’s faulty exhaust system.
Ibbotson, whose body has never been found, was an amateur pilot and was not allowed to carry passengers or fly at night.
He told Jones that he heard a bang during the outward flight before departing Nantes. “I’m mid-Channel and ‘bang’,” the pilot said in the recording.
“I’m flying along and then ‘boom’. I thought, ‘what’s wrong?’ So I put everything forward and checked my parameters, everything was good and it was still flying, but it got your attention.”
He said: “That Malibu, occasionally you’ve got like a mist every so often. You can feel it, very, very low throughout the airframe.”
“This aircraft has got to go back in the hanger,” he added, after realising the plane’s left brake pedal was not working when he landed at Nantes Atlantique airport.
The pilot and businessman David Henderson, 67, managed the single-engine aircraft on behalf of its owner and arranged flights, pilots and maintenance, despite not being the legally registered operator.
Ibbotson reported the loud bang between Cardiff and Nantes to Henderson but an engineer was not asked to investigate when the plane landed in France.
Ibbotson had also been banned from flying the Piper Malibu by its owner after two airspace infringements months earlier but Henderson allowed him to fly. Henderson kept no records or invoices for his business, or the qualifications of the pilots who flew for him.
Willie McKay, a football agent who arranged the fights while helping his son Mark’s firm represent Nantes in the transfer, was a long-term client of Henderson. He denied knowingly arranging illegal “grey” flights with the businessman, who did not have an air operator’s certificate allowing him to fly paying passengers.
Last year, Henderson was jailed for 18 months after being convicted of endangering the safety of an aircraft. He admitted a further offence of trying to arrange a flight for a passenger without permission or authorisation.