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Emiliano Sala flight organiser hired unqualified pilot, court hears

Plane operator David Henderson told people to ‘keep quiet’ after learning the footballer had died in a crash.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE MAN WHO organised the doomed flight carrying footballer Emiliano Sala ahead of his multimillion-pound Premier League transfer cut corners for financial reasons by hiring an unqualified pilot to fly the plane, a court heard.

The plane carrying 28-year-old Sala crashed into the English Channel in January 2019, killing the footballer and the pilot David Ibbotson, 59.

The aircraft operator, David Henderson, 67, was unable to fly the plane himself because he was away with his wife in Paris.

Instead, he hired Mr Ibbotson, who did not hold a commercial pilot’s licence, was not allowed to fly at night, and whose rating to fly the single-engine Piper Malibu had expired.

Henderson is on trial at Cardiff Crown Court accused of endangering the safety of an aircraft in a prosecution brought by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Jurors heard that hours after the night-time crash, Henderson messaged several people telling them to “keep quiet” and suggesting the incident would open up a “whole can of worms”.

Martin Goudie QC, prosecuting, told the court the case involved two flights, one from Cardiff to Nantes on January 19 and a return flight to the Welsh capital on January 21.

“These flights were not operated and organised out of Mr Henderson’s love for Mr Sala or Cardiff City FC,” he said.

“They were organised because it was in his financial interest, he was to receive valuable consideration, a phrase we will come back to, in return for organising and operating these flights.”

The body of the Argentina striker was recovered from the seabed the following month, but neither the body of Mr Ibbotson, from Crowle, Lincolnshire, nor the plane’s wreckage, was recovered.

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Mr Goudie went on: “Mr Ibbotson did not have a commercial pilot’s licence, his rating for the type of aircraft had expired in November 2018 and he was not competent to fly in the weather that Mr Henderson was aware the flights might encounter.

“It is the prosecution case that in organising and operating passenger flights for valuable consideration when the aircraft was not authorised for such flights, and in using a pilot who was neither qualified nor competent to complete the flights, that Mr Henderson acted either negligently or recklessly in a manner that was likely to endanger the aircraft and those on it by creating a real risk that ought not to be ignored.

“We do not seek to suggest that Mr Henderson did not know what he was doing or care about safety – you will see a lot of maintenance took place on the aircraft – but that he ignored certain requirements when it suited him and his business interests.”

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