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Pilot called plane 'dodgy' before crash that killed Sala

September 21, 2022

David Ibbotson expressed concerns about the plane before the crash in the English Channel. The day before flying, he told a fellow pilot that he would definitely be wearing a life jacket, as opposed to having it nearby.

Handout file photo issued by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch of the Piper Malibu aircraft, N264DB, on the ground at Nantes Airport, France, prior to the flight which crashed into the Channel on January 21 killing footballer Emiliano Sala.
Sala died in January 2021 after taking off from Nantes AirportImage: AAIB/PA Wire/empics/picture alliance

The pilot flying the plane that crashed in the English Channel, killing Argentinian footballer Emiliano Sala, highlighted his fears over the aircraft's safety the day before flying, according to audio obtained by the BBC.

David Ibbotson, 59, told a fellow pilot on the phone that he thought the plane was "dodgy," adding "normally I'd have my life jacket in between the seats, tomorrow we're wearing the life jacket, that's for sure."

Sala, 28, inhaled high levels of carbon monoxide from the 35-year-old Piper Malibu plane's faulty exhaust system during the unlicensed flight, a coroner's inquest ruled earlier this year.

File photo of a match day program with an image of Emiliano Sala on the cover in remembrance during the Premier League match at the Cardiff City Stadium
Sala was heading to Cardiff City, who he had just signed for from French club NantesImage: Mark Kerton/PA Wire/empics/picture alliance

Heard a 'bang' in outbound flight

The soccer player was en route to Cardiff to seal a 15 million pound (€17 million, $17 million) move to the then Premier League club from Nantes, in northwestern France.

Regarding the flight to France to pick Sala up, Ibbotson told his friend that he heard a "bang" when he was flying across the Channel.

He also said that the aircraft's left brake pedal wasn't working.

Sala said 'plane looks like it's falling apart'

Echoing the fears of the pilot, Sala told friends in a voice note he was "scared" and that the plane "looks like it's falling apart."

In November 2021, almost three years after the crash, the man who organized the flight, David Henderson, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for hiring a pilot he knew to be unqualified and for carrying a passenger without valid authorization.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport in August dismissed an appeal by Cardiff City after the football club refused to make a payment of €6 million to FC Nantes, the first installment of Sala's transfer fee.

Sala's body was recovered but Ibbotson has never been found.

jsi/kb (AFP, dpa)