August 15 – Emiliano Sala was exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide before the light aircraft that was carrying the Argentine striker crashed into the English Channel en route to Cardiff City for whom he had just signed, air accident investigators have revealed.
The 28-year-old and his pilot were both killed when the Piper Malibu plane disappeared from radar whilst travelling at night on January 21 having taken off from his previous club, Nantes.
Wreckage of the plane was located on the sea bed on February 3 and a report now says Sala and pilot David Ibbotson were poisoned by harmful levels of carbon monoxide inside the cockpit.
Toxicology tests performed on Sala, who never got to play for Cardiff, showed a carboxyhaemoglobin (a mixture of carbon monoxide and haemoglobin) saturation level of 58%. According to investigators, anything over 50% is considered to be “potentially fatal” and could trigger a heart attack, seizure or unconsciousness.
They assumed that the pilot, whose body has not been found, would also have been affected by exposure to the gas, which would rule out pilot error.
Ibbotson’s widow told Sky: “This has just come out the blue, it’s a massive shock, I just didn’t realise that that would have happened or could have happened.”
“It makes a big difference because they’ve been poisoned, they have no idea it’s a lethal gas. You can’t smell it, you can’t see it. It’s lethal, they wouldn’t have known. So it’s nothing to do with the flying or anything like that, it’s down to the aircraft. ”
Investigators are now trying to identify possible ways that carbon monoxide might have entered the aircraft’s cabin.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said: “Work is also continuing to investigate pertinent operational, technical, organisational and human factors which might have contributed to the accident.”
“It is clear from the symptoms that exposure to CO [carbon monoxide] can reduce or inhibit a pilot’s ability to fly an aircraft depending on the level of that exposure.”
Sala’s family have called for the plane’s wreckage to be salvaged from the Channel.
Daniel Machover, a lawyer for the Sala family, said: “That dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide have been found in Emiliano’s body raises many questions for the family. How he died will be determined at the inquest in due course.
“The family believe that a detailed technical examination of the plane is necessary. The family and the public need to know how the carbon monoxide was able to enter the cabin. Future air safety rests on knowing as much as possible on this issue.”
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