A football agent has claimed he organised the doomed private charter flight for top striker Emiliano Sala because he knew the player’s new Premier League club would not pay for it, an inquest heard.
Sala died alongside David Ibbotson, 59, when their Piper Malibu aircraft crashed into the English Channel close to Alderney on 21 January 2019.
The 28-year-old was returning to Wales from France having gone back to Nantes to say goodbye to his former teammates in flights organised by Mr McKay.
Giving evidence, Mr McKay claimed he stepped in to arrange the return flights because a junior official at Cardiff City was “too scared” to ask senior club management to help.
Mr McKay told the inquest in Bournemouth he had no recollection of discussing the costs of the flights or that they would cost “a couple of grand”.
He was barred at the time from acting as an agent in the transfer in his own right because he was an undischarged bankrupt, but was working for his son Mark’s firm, who were representing Nantes.
Mr McKay said Callum Davies, Cardiff City’s player liaison officer, was “perplexed” at the decision by the club and chief executive Ken Choo not to arrange it.
He phoned pilot David Henderson to arrange the outward flight on January 18 and the return three days later. Mr Henderson then hired Mr Ibbotson, as he was unavailable.
“I have used David Henderson for 14 years and he had never let me down. David Henderson was a top, top pilot and flew in the RAF and flew planes all round the world,” Mr McKay said.
“The most important thing was to help Emi.
“I knew Callum was perplexed by Ken Choo and Cardiff who had not arranged it.
“Callum knew what the answer was going to be. I just felt that Callum was too scared to ask – that was my feeling.”
Mr McKay said the flights were organised over a drink in the bar of a Cardiff hotel where Mr Sala was staying during the transfer.
The inquest also heard from Mr Davies who said he first met Mr McKay and his son Mark when he flew with then club manager Neil Warnock to watch Mr Sala play for Nantes ahead of the transfer.
Mr Davies told the court: “Willie McKay asked me about the plans to get him back to Nantes and I said I would have to speak to the club.
“Willie said, ‘We can sort’, and I said how much would that cost and he said a couple of grand. I wasn’t a responsible enough person to confirm any of this in terms of private travel.
“The only option I would consider would be a commercial flight.
“I didn’t want to treat Emiliano Sala any different to any other player despite the amount of money we were spending on him.”
Mr Davies said he sent details of commercial flights to Mr Sala, but the footballer later confirmed Mr McKay had made the arrangements.
He denied he was “too fearful” to ask Cardiff City to organise the charter flights.
Matthew Reeve, representing the family of Mr Sala, asked Mr Davies whether anyone at Cardiff City, including Mr Warnock, had warned him of Willie McKay’s “untrustworthiness”.
“I cannot recall any specific examples,” he replied.
Mr Davies said that he had seen Mr McKay very upset and angry during an under 23s match at Cardiff City, in which his son Jack was playing, because he had not been invited into the directors’ box.
Mr Reeve asked: “Did he say, ‘This f****** deal not going to happen. Come on Mark, let’s go.’
“Did he say, ‘I am going to drive Sala to West Ham’.”
Mr Davies replied: “Yes. He was upset and angry and not being treated fairly by the club on that occasion.
“There were media reports linking Emiliano to other Premier League clubs and he would potentially scupper the deal.”
Mr Reeve asked: “Did he say, ‘Unless Ken Choo speaks to him it’s off. I’ve spent £50,000 on private flights for this deal. F****** waste of my time’.”
Mr Davies replied: “He did yes.”
The inquest has heard Mr Sala was overcome by toxic levels of carbon monoxide poisoning prior to dying from severe head and chest injuries consistent with a plane crash.