Emiliano Sala crash: Pilot David Ibbotson was not cleared to fly plane, report finds

Aircraft carrying the Cardiff City footballer crashed into the English Channel on 21 January 2019, with a detailed report revealed multiple malfunctions with the plane and licence breaches by pilot David Ibbotson

Jack de Menezes
Friday 13 March 2020 15:49
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Emiliano Sala had carbon monoxide in blood before plane crash, investigators say

The pilot of the plane that crashed into the English Channel and killed footballer Emiliano Sala was not licensed to fly after it expired three months before the fatal flight 14 months ago, it has been revealed.

A final report released by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch on Friday revealed that neither the pilot David Ibbotson, whose body has not been found, nor the Piper Malibu aircraft were licensed to fly from Nantes to Cardiff.

The aircraft crashed into the Channel on 21 January 2019 shortly after 6pm, with the report also confirming that Ibbotson’s expired licence did not permit him to fly at night. It also stated that Ibbotson was colour blind, and had expressed concerns over a number of malfunctions on the plane that included an oil leak, brake issues and problems with the stall warning system.

The report says that Ibbotson, who had never received any night-flying training, lost control of the aircraft during a manually-flown turn. It states that the loss of control was likely because the flight was “not conducted in accordance with safety standards applicable to commercial operation”.

Ibbotson was paid for the flight even though his licence did not permit such transactions, and his SEP rating had expired three months before the crash, having only been cleared to fly a single-engine piston aeroplane.

The body of 28-year-old Sala was found in the wreckage on the sea bed on 6 February after his family launched their own search mission, and a post-mortem revealed high levels of carbon monoxide in his system. The report says that this was likely because of a malfunction with the exhaust tailpipe, which pumped toxic gases into the cockpit and almost certainly came into contact with Ibbotson as well as Sala. There were no carbon monoxide detectors on board but the plane did undergo maintenance checks before leaving Nantes.

The erratic flying came shortly before the plane lost contact with radar and slammed into the Channel near Guernsey, with investigators reporting that the scale of the impact would not have been survivable as the damage to the remains of the plane saw it left in three heavily-damaged parts.

"The aircraft was extensively damaged and the wreckage was in three parts, held together by electrical and flying control cables,” said principal inspector Brian McDermid. “The engine had disconnected from the cockpit area, and the rear section of the fuselage had broken away from the forward section.

"The cockpit area and instrument panel were badly disrupted, such that it would not have been possible with any confidence to determine the position of controls and switches before the crash."

An inquest into Sala’s death and the events leading up to it is due to recommence next week, and the findings were welcomed by Cardiff City Football Club, who had signed Sala from FC Nantes for £15m just days before.

A Cardiff City spokesperson said: "We welcome the publication of the AAIB report, an important step in understanding the full facts surrounding this tragedy.

"It is a detailed and technical piece of work which, whilst apportioning no blame or liability, raises a number of questions which we hope will be addressed during the inquest recommencing next week.

"We are encouraged to read that the CAA is determined to tackle illegal activities by pursuing those involved, it is a practice which must be stopped and we hope the industry will be supported in order to prevent this tragedy happening again."

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