Emiliano Sala: ‘Not an hour goes by’ without plane operator thinking about fatal crash, court told

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Tributes at Cardiff City Stadium for Emiliano Sala following his death in 2019 (PA)
Tributes at Cardiff City Stadium for Emiliano Sala following his death in 2019 (PA)

The operator of a plane which crashed into the sea killing footballer Emiliano Sala has described the incident as “desperate” and said “not a day or hour goes by” that he does not think about what happened.

David Henderson is on trial charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft.

The 67-year-old, from Hotham in the East Riding of Yorkshire, told the jury at Cardiff Crown Court he had been “badly affected” since the plane crash.

Former Nantes star Sala was travelling to Cardiff in a single-engine Piper Malibu aircraft after completing a £15m move when the aircraft crashed north of Guernsey on 21 January 2019.

Pilot David Ibbotson, 59, died along with the 28-year-old Argentinian striker when the light aircraft plunged into the English Channel.

Sala's body was recovered from the seabed the following month but Mr Ibbotson, from Crowle in North Lincolnshire, was never found.

Mr Henderson began his evidence on Thursday, telling the court he had been on holiday with his wife in Paris when he was contacted by football agent William “Willie” McKay, who wanted him to fly to Nantes but he said he could not do the job, he told the court.

David Henderson arriving at Cardiff Crown Court on Monday (PA)
David Henderson arriving at Cardiff Crown Court on Monday (PA)

He said that while he had organised the flight with Mr McKay, Mr Ibbotson was ultimately responsible for the safe passage of the aircraft.

“My intention was to leave it with him (Mr Ibbotson). He had taken over responsibility of everything related to the flight,” Mr Henderson said.

Asked by his counsel, Stephen Spence QC, whose responsibility it was to ensure a safe flight, Mr Henderson said: “Ultimately it was the pilot in command.”

He said he was not concerned about Mr Ibbotson's ability to fly, describing him as an “experienced” pilot.

And he added he was “reassured” about concerns raised by Mr Ibbotson, about the aircraft's mechanics, after it landed in Nantes where it was examined by a French engineer.

After receiving the news that air traffic controllers had lost contact with the plane, Henderson said he was “very, very concerned. Distressed really. I feared the worst”.

“The whole scenario, the loss of an airplane, someone I know, and a passenger is very desperate.”

“I was badly affected by the news,” he added.

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Police arrested him at his home on 19 June 2019 - just before he had been due to celebrate his daughter's birthday, the court was told.

Mr Henderson said: “It came as a real shock. I felt numb. It was a total surprise.

“I've had huge anxiety. Not a day or hour goes by without it being in my mind.”

On Wednesday, the court heard how Mr Ibbotson had never held a night-flying licence.

John Overall, from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), said that Mr Ibbotson's rating to fly the Piper Malibu had expired in November 2018.

Mr Overall also said he could find no record of Mr Ibbotson having a certification to fly at night.

The trial continues.

Additional reporting by PA

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