Pilot who was meant to fly footballer Emiliano Sala to Britain prosecuted over fatal flight

Jamie Johnson
·4-min read
Emiliano Sala tributes - LOIC VENANCE / AFP
Emiliano Sala tributes - LOIC VENANCE / AFP

The man who was meant to have piloted the plane in which footballer Emiliano Sala was killed is being prosecuted over the fatal flight, it was confirmed today.

David Henderson, 66, a private pilot from Hotham, North Yorks, was replaced on the day of the flight by David Ibbotson.

The Piper Malibu PA-46 was en route from Nantes airport in France to Cardiff when it plunged into the English Channel on January 21, 2019.

The 28-year-old Argentine striker's body was recovered on February 7, 2019, and taken to Portland, Dorset. Mr Ibbotson, 59, has not been found.

A post mortem examination showed Mr Sala died from head and trunk injuries. He had also been exposed to deadly levels of carbon monoxide poisoning during the flight.

It later emerged Mr Ibbotson was not qualified to fly at night or carry commercial passengers.

The Piper Malibu aircraft N264DB which crashed into the Channel on January 21 killing footballer Emiliano Sala and his pilot David Ibbotson - AAIB / PA 
The Piper Malibu aircraft N264DB which crashed into the Channel on January 21 killing footballer Emiliano Sala and his pilot David Ibbotson - AAIB / PA

The prosecution is being brought by the Civil Aviation Authority against Mr Henderson for acting in a 'reckless and negligent' manner under the Air Navigation Order (2016).

He is also charged with attempting to cause the plane to discharge a passenger in the UK.

It has emerged that Mr Henderson appeared before magistrates in Cardiff on September 28 where he pleaded not guilty to the two criminal charges.

He is next due to appear at Cardiff Crown Court on October 26.

Mr Henderson had been investigated for manslaughter by Dorset Police in connection to the two deaths.

But it was confirmed earlier this year that no 'homicide' charges were being brought against him police.

Richard Stephenson, director at the Civilian Aviation Authority, said: "The UK Civil Aviation Authority has commenced a prosecution of David Henderson for offences associated with the fatal light aircraft accident over the English Channel in January 2019.

"The charges are: On the 18th and 19th of January 2019, acted in a reckless/negligent manner likely to endanger N264DB (Articles 240, 256 and Part 4 of Schedule 13 of the Air Navigation Order 2016).

"On the 21st of January 2019, attempted to cause N264DB to discharge a passenger in the UK (Section 1(1) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981, Articles 250, 256 and Part 3 of Schedule 13 of the Air Navigation Order 2016).

"It will be inappropriate for the CAA to say anything further until the case is concluded."

Mr Henderson's prosecution was revealed during a pre-inquest review into Mr Sala's death which was held at Bournemouth Town Hall today.

As a result, the full inquest is not expected to take place until 2022, more than three years after his death.

Emiliano Sala gestures during the French L1 football match between Nantes and Montpellier - LOIC VENANCE / AFP
Emiliano Sala gestures during the French L1 football match between Nantes and Montpellier - LOIC VENANCE / AFP

Dorset Coroner Rachael Griffin said it would be in the 'interests of justice' not to proceed until criminal proceedings against Mr Henderson had ended.

Matthew Reeve, representing Mr Sala's family, said they opposed the delay as it was not in the 'public interest'.

Keith Morton QC, representing the Civil Aviation Authority, told the inquest: "On September 9, 2020, the CAA issued two summonses against David Henderson for offences under the Air Navigation Order.

"One, under Article 240, endangering aircraft, relates to two flights including the return flight on January 21, 2019, that ended in the accident that you are directly concerned with.

"A separate offence under Article 250 relates to the licensing of that particular flight on January 21.

"David Henderson appeared before Cardiff Magistrates Court on September 28 and entered a not guilty plea. The case was committed to Cardiff Crown Court with his next appearance on October 26."

When he was asked by the coroner for a timescale for that prosecution, he replied: "Early 2022."

Ms Griffin said: "The final inquest hearing will not take place until the conclusion of the prosecution.

"I'm sympathetic to the delay this will cause in light of what Mr Morton saying about it could potentially go on until early 2022, if not later, but in the interests of justice it is important to await the conclusion of that prosecution."

Mr Reeve had told her: "There is a significant public interest to this inquest and delays should be avoided in the interest of public safety.

"There has already been a delay of two years and it is the wish of the family that this inquest hearing go on as planned.

"One does not have to imagine the impact on the family of further delay."

The hearing was watched on videolink by Mr Ibbotson's wife Nora, with legal representatives for Cardiff City and the Civil Aviation Authority in attendance.

The inquest was adjourned until December 15.