'Acting from motives of profit': Sala's Nantes flight fixer jailed for 18 months

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A judge on Friday denounced the organiser of Emiliano Sala's doomed flight from Nantes as greedy for cash after jailing him for 18 months for shirking his responsibilities.

Sentencing David Henderson, Justice Foxton told the 67-year-old father-of-three: “The cause of the crash and the loss of two souls has been a devastating experience for you.

“You intentionally breached legislation and disregarded Civil Aviation Authority regulations and did so on a premeditated basis for reasons of profit.

“In many cases including this one there is an accepted risk of death or injury to anyone travelling in an aircraft.

"That outcome is far from inevitable and the risk was a low one but one that could not safely be ignored. You were acting from motives of profit.”

Henderson, from Yorkshire, northern England, was found guilty at Cardiff crown court last month of endangering an aircraft.

The Piper PA-46 Malibu, flown by David Ibbotson, crashed off the coast of the Channel Islands on 21 January, 2019, as it headed towards Cardiff from Nantes in western France.

Sala had spent the weekend in France to say farewell to his Nantes teammates before returning to Wales following his 17-million euro transfer to Cardiff City, who were then playing in England’s Premier League.

Find

The body of the 28-year-old Argentine was detected in February following a crowd-funded salvage operation. The remains of 59-year-old Ibbotson have not been recovered.

An inquiry by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) found that Sala's body showed high levels of exposure to carbon monoxide which had leaked into the cabin of the aircraft and may have impaired the judgment of the pilot.

The AAIB panel also concluded that Ibbotson was not licensed to fly the plane as his rating had expired in November 2018. It also said that he was not qualified to fly at night.

The investigation added: "Neither the plane nor the pilot had the required licences or permissions to operate commercially."

The trial at Cardiff crown court was instigated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) which oversees safety in the airspace around Britain.

Sentence

Henderson will also serve at the same time a three-month sentence for attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or authorisation.

The former RAF officer admitted that charge, which sanctions a business operator who fails to obtain the correct paperwork to hire a plane commercially.

Request

During the 10-day trial, the jury was told that Henderson was contacted by Willie McKay - the agent handling Sala’s transfer - and asked if he could fly the player between Cardiff and Nantes and back again.

Henderson told McKay he was unable to make the journey as he was on a break with his wife in Paris and contacted Ibbotson to replace him.

“I believe David Ibbotson was an experienced pilot and I had no reservations about his ability as a pilot,” Henderson told the court.

A lawyer representing the Sala family welcomed Friday’s verdict.

"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," said Daniel Machover.

"We still do not know the key information about the maintenance history of the aircraft and all the factors behind the carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Inquest

Machover said he hoped that the AAIB and Piper Aircraft would hand over information to an inquest next February.

"This should ensure that the inquest can fulfil its function of fully and fearlessly examining the evidence so that all the facts emerge," he added.

"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.

Lawyers representing Henderson said on Friday they were assessing whether to appeal.

“Now that the case is concluded in the crown Court, Mr Henderson wishes to formally pay his respects to the families of Emiliano Sala and David Ibbotson,” added their statement.

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

“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 CAA will always look to prosecute illegal activity.”

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