Organiser of Sala flight from Nantes had no qualms about pilot, court hears

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A man accused of shirking his responsibilities when arranging the flight in which the former Nantes player Emiliano Sala died told a court on Thursday he had no reservations about the ability of pilot for the voyage.

David Ibbotson was at the controls of the single-engine Piper Malibu when it crashed into the English Channel near Guernsey on 21 January 2019.

He had been returning to Wales from Nantes with Sala who had just signed for 17 million euros for the then English Premier League outfit Cardiff City.

The body of 28-year-old Sala was found in February 2019 after a crowd-funded search. The remains of 59-year-old Ibbotson have not been recovered.

David Henderson, who denies endangering the safety of an aircraft, told Cardiff crown court: “I believe David Ibbotson was an experienced pilot and I had no reservations about his ability as a pilot.”

During earlier exchanges, the court heard that Henderson was contacted by Willie McKay - the agent handling Sala’s transfer -and asked if he could fly the Argentine 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.


Prosecutors claim Henderson knew Ibbotson did not have a commercial pilot’s licence and that he was not competent to fly in bad weather nor at night.

They also allege that Henderson still allowed the flight to go ahead out of financial interest and in doing so had acted negligently or recklessly.

Henderson said: “Although I accept I looked after the aircraft ... but at the relevant time the person who had control of the aircraft was David Ibbotson.

"Mr McKay hired the aircraft and Mr Ibbotson had control of the practical arrangements of the flight. From my perspective he was the operator.


“It was his decision whether or not he flew the aircraft, whether the flight could be performed safely.

“He liaised directly with the engineers. During my exchanges he seemed confident and did not express any apprehensions about the aircraft.

“If Mr Ibbotson knew he did not have the correct ratings to carry out the flights I would have expected him not to have done so."

Henderson, 67, from Yorkshire, northern England, has pleaded guilty to attempting to discharge a passenger.

The hearing continues.

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