Footballer Emiliano Sala and his pilot had been exposed to harmful levels of carbon monoxide in the cockpit of their private plane when it crashed in the English Channel in January, it has been revealed.
The findings from the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) come almost seven months after the Piper Malibu aircraft that Sala and pilot David Ibbotson were travelling in came down north of Guernsey on January 21.
The tragedy occurred just two days after Cardiff had signed the Argentinian striker from Nantes for £15m.
Sala’s body was recovered on February 6 and a post-mortem examination took place at Bournemouth Mortuary the following day. The remains of Ibbotson, of Crowle, Lincolnshire, have never been found.
An opening inquest into Sala’s death at Dorset Coroner’s Court in February heard the footballer had died from “head and trunk injuries.”
The AAIB stated that the aircraft took off at 7.15pm GMT and flew on its planned route at an altitude of 5,500 feet until it was around 13 nautical miles south of Guernsey at 8.02pm.
At that point, the pilot requested permission from air traffic control to fly at a lower level to maintain visibility.
He was cleared by the controller to fly at 5,000 feet, and when asked if a further descent was required, Mr Ibbotson responded: “Negative. Just avoided a patch there but back on heading 5,000 feet.”
The last radio communication received from the aircraft was at 8.12pm when the pilot asked for and was granted permission to reduce altitude again.
The AAIB had said the investigation will also focus on the validity of the pilot’s licence.
It named “regulatory requirements” as one of four areas in which it would carry out further work before publishing its final report.
Its interim report noted that the type of licence held by Ibbotson meant he could only fly passengers in the European Union on a cost-sharing basis, rather than for commercial flights.
Pilots with his licence “must have a bona fide purpose for making the flight”, according to the AAIB.
Daniel Machover, of Hickman and Rose solicitors, lawyers for the Sala family, said: “That dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide have been found in Emiliano’s body raises many questions for the family.
“How he died will be determined at the inquest in due course.
“The family believe that a detailed technical examination of the plane is necessary.
“The family and the public need to know how the carbon monoxide was able to enter the cabin. Future air safety rests on knowing as much as possible on this issue.
“Emiliano’s family call on the AAIB to salvage the wreckage of the plane without further delay.”
A spokesman for Cardiff City said: “CCFC is concerned at the AAIB’s latest report which once again highlights that the aircraft used for Emiliano Sala was not appropriate.
“We continue to believe that those who were instrumental in arranging its usage are held to account for this tragedy.”
Meanwhile two people have been warned they face jail after accessing CCTV footage of the post-mortem examination of the footballer.
Sherry Bray, 49, and Christopher Ashford, 62, appeared at Swindon Crown Court earlier this month where they admitted accessing CCTV footage of Sala’s post-mortem examination.
They were released on bail to appear at the same court on September 20.
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