Emiliano Sala inquest to take place next year

Rod Minchin, PA
·4-min read

An inquest into the death of footballer Emiliano Sala who died in an air crash will take place next year.

Senior Dorset Coroner Rachael Griffin said the striker’s inquest would provisionally begin on February 14 2022 and could last up to eight weeks.

The single-engine Piper Malibu plane carrying the 28-year-old Argentinian, who was involved in a multimillion-pound transfer from FC Nantes in France to Cardiff City, crashed north of Guernsey on January 21 2019.

His body was recovered the following month but the aircraft’s unqualified pilot, David Ibbotson, 59, from Crowle, Lincolnshire, has not been found.

David Henderson, who is alleged to have arranged the flight, is due to stand trial in October accused of endangering the safety of an aircraft, as well as attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or authorisation.

During a pre-inquest review at the Town Hall in Bournemouth, Ms Griffin said she did not want the inquest to begin until criminal proceedings had concluded as new evidence may come to light during the trial.

“I understand the wish of the family to have this inquest completed at the earliest opportunity, which I am sure is a desire of all involved,” she said.

“I believe the evidence of Mr Henderson, who will be called to give evidence at this inquest, will be more helpful for this investigation following the conclusion of the criminal proceedings.

“This is a provisional date and I hope that everybody will make their best efforts to make sure the inquest does go ahead on February 14.

“I must say I don’t know what the incidence of Covid-19 will be next winter and that might change things.”

Emiliano Sala missing plane
Emiliano Sala’s mother Mercedes, left, and sister Romina arrive at Guernsey Airport (Joe Giddens/PA)

Ms Griffin said she had been invited to consider making both Neil Warnock, who was manager of Cardiff City at the time of the Sala transfer, and football agent Mark McKay “interested persons” – meaning they could actively participate in the inquest.

“First of all, it is important I explain that neither of those has been advised of that before today’s hearing,” she said.

“From the information I have available to me, I do not believe there is sufficient reason to grant either of those persons interested persons status at this stage.”

Ms Griffin also rejected an application made by representatives of FC Nantes to also be an interested person but would keep the decision under review.

She said she also wanted a statement from Cardiff City giving details of the transfer of Mr Sala to the club from France.

“I want a statement from Cardiff City Football Club, whoever you deem to be the appropriate person within the club to provide it, outlining their understanding of the signing of Emiliano, the arrangements for Emiliano to be transported to and from Nantes, and their understanding of the arranging of flights, and their involvement, if any, within that arrangement,” she said.

“That will also assist me again in establishing whether the conduct of FC Nantes is to be called into question.”

The coroner told the hearing the scope of the inquest would be held under review but would consider the arrangements of the flight; the operation of the aircraft; the condition and maintenance of the aircraft; Mr Ibbotson’s qualifications to fly the aircraft; the flight itself and the search and recovery of Mr Sala.

She also said the inquest would hear evidence on the design of the exhaust system, maintenance procedures and carbon monoxide detectors, as that is part of considering a preventing future deaths report.

Mr Sala’s brother Dario attended the hearing via videolink from Argentina and was assisted by an interpreter.

Meanwhile, Mr Sala’s family have launched High Court action in order to “protect their legal rights” once the inquest concludes.

Lawyer Daniel Machover, of Hickman & Rose Solicitors, said: “Most importantly, the family know that the inquest will provide the answers to the very many questions they have about what went wrong in January 2019 and why Emiliano’s life was cut short.”

A report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch previously concluded that the aircraft carrying Mr Sala and Mr Ibbotson suffered an in-flight break-up while being flown too fast for its design limits, and that the pilot lost control while attempting to avoid bad weather.

It added that Mr Ibbotson was probably affected by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Investigators found that a contributory factor in the crash was Mr Ibbotson having no training in night flying, and a lack of recent practice in relying only on cockpit instruments to control a plane.

And they found that he held a private pilot’s licence that did not allow him to conduct flights for reward.

A further pre-inquest hearing will take place on June 25.