Pilot who was meant to fly footballer Emiliano Sala to Britain pleads not guilty

Telegraph reporters
·2 min read
 Argentinian player Emiliano Sala  - AP Photo/Thibault Camus
Argentinian player Emiliano Sala - AP Photo/Thibault Camus

David Henderson has pleaded not guilty to two charges relating to the aircraft crash which killed footballer Emiliano Sala in January 2019.

Henderson, 66, was charged after the single-engine Piper Malibu aircraft crashed north of Guernsey in January 2019, killing its pilot David Ibbotson and passenger Sala.

The body of the 28-year-old Argentinian, who was involved in a multimillion pound transfer from FC Nantes in France to Cardiff City FC, was recovered the following month, but the body of Ibbotson, 59, from Crowle, Lincolnshire, has not been found.

On Monday, Henderson, wearing a blue suit, appeared at Cardiff Crown Court via a video link to deny two offences under the Air Navigation Order (2016) brought by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The court heard he was charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft, as well as attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or authorisation.

The court heard the details of the first allegation related to Ibbotson, who was contracted to fly the aircraft, not having a commercial pilot's licence at the time of the flight, with it having expired in November 2018.

It also related to the bad weather which was forecast for the fatal return journey from Nantes to Cardiff, with the pilot not being "competent to fly in such weather".

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

Stephen Spence, defending, told the court he would raise the issue of whether Cardiff would be an "appropriate venue" for a fair trial, considering Sala's link with the Welsh capital's football club.

Judge Tracey Lloyd-Clarke told Henderson his trial date had been fixed for October 18 2021.

Henderson, from Hotham in the East Riding of Yorkshire, was granted unconditional bail until the trial date.

A report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) previously concluded that the aircraft carrying Sala and Ibbotson suffered an in-flight break-up while being flown too fast for its design limits, and that the pilot lost control while attempting to avoid bad weather.

It added that Ibbotson was probably affected by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Investigators found that a contributory factor in the crash was Ibbotson having no training in night flying, and a lack of recent practice in relying only on cockpit instruments to control a plane.

And they found that he held a private pilot's licence that did not allow him to conduct flights for reward.