Emiliano Sala plane crash: Pilot 'lost control while turning too fast to avoid bad weather'

13 March 2020, 14:16

Emiliano Sala died in the Channel plane crash last January
Emiliano Sala died in the Channel plane crash last January. Picture: PA

By Megan White

The plane carrying footballer Emiliano Sala crashed into the Channel after the pilot “lost control” trying to turn to avoid bad weather while going too fast, a report has found.

An investigation into the crash last January found the Piper Malibu light aircraft “suffered an in-flight break-up while manoeuvring at an airspeed significantly in excess of its design manoeuvring speed.”

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report said David Ibbotson, the pilot taking 28-year-old striker Sala from Nantes to Cardiff, his new club, was also “probably affected by carbon monoxide poisoning” at the time of the crash.

They also said “neither the pilot nor aircraft had the required licences or permissions to operate commercially.”

The final report found that Mr Ibbotson lost control during a “manually-flown turn, which was probably initiated to remain in or regain Visual Meteorological Conditions,” before the plane crashed near Guernsey around 8pm on January 21 2019.

The Piper PA-46-310P Malibu, N264DB, which carried Sala
The Piper PA-46-310P Malibu, N264DB, which carried Sala. Picture: AAIB

Sala was moving from Nantes to Cardiff to join Cardiff City FC when the accident took place.

The AAIB said: “A loss of control was made more likely because the flight was not conducted in accordance with safety standards applicable to commercial operations.

“This manifested itself in the flight being operated under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) at night in poor weather conditions despite the pilot having no training in night flying and a lack of recent practice in instrument flying.

“In-service inspections of exhaust systems do not eliminate the risk of CO poisoning.

“There was no CO detector with an active warning in the aircraft which might have alerted the pilot to the presence of CO in time for him to take mitigating action.”

Five safety recommendations have been made in the report concerning the carriage of CO detectors, additional in-service inspections of exhaust systems, and the maintenance of flight crew licensing records.

Tributes left to the late footballer at Nantes, his former club
Tributes left to the late footballer at Nantes, his former club. Picture: PA

The Sala family's Argentinian lawyer, Javier Canosa, said: "The Sala family are grateful that the AAIB has finally published their report which contains a large amount of important technical detail about how Emiliano's plane crashed.

"But the report leaves many questions for the inquest to address.

"It is crucial that the information held by the police and which went into compiling this report now be made available to the coroner and in turn to the family.

"Over a year has passed since Emiliano Sala died.

"His family remain distraught by their loss but determined to find the full truth of how and why he died, which requires the inquest to be held without delay."

The wreckage of the plane, found on the sea bed near Guernsey
The wreckage of the plane, found on the sea bed near Guernsey. Picture: AAIB

Crispin Orr, Chief Inspector of Air Accidents, Air Accidents Investigation Branch said: “This was a tragic accident with fatal consequences.

“As we publish our final report today, our thoughts are with the families of Mr Sala and Mr Ibbotson.

“A team of highly experienced investigators has been working to examine all aspects of the flight in order to understand the factors which may have caused or contributed to the accident.

“Today we have made important safety recommendations which, if fully implemented, would significantly reduce the risk of a recurrence.

“Routine maintenance is vital but cannot eliminate the risk of carbon monoxide leaks completely.

“Equipping aircraft with devices that provide warning of the presence of this odourless, colourless and lethal gas, would enable pilots to take potentially lifesaving action.

“We are therefore calling for the regulators to make it mandatory for piston engine aircraft, such as the one involved in this accident, to carry an active CO warning device.

“The chartering of aircraft that are not licensed for commercial transport – so called ‘grey charters’ – is putting lives at risk.

“We welcome the Civil Aviation Authority’s efforts to stop this practice through their ‘Legal to Fly’ campaign and other interventions.”