September 21 – The pilot of the plane that crashed into the English Channel, tragically killing himself and Argentine forward Emiliano Sala in 2019, told friends the aircraft was “dodgy” before the fateful flight.
David Ibbotson is heard in audio obtained by the BBC saying “I’ll be wearing my life jacket” on the journey from Nantes in France to Cardiff two days after Sala had signed for Cardiff City in a record fee for the club.
The unsavoury dispute over who was liable for the €17 million transfer fee appeared to have finally reached its conclusion last month after Cardiff lost their appeal against a ruling by FIFA to pay the first instalment of €6 million to the French club.
The audio reveals for the first time the technical difficulties Ibbotson – a part-time pilot who didn’t have a licence to carry paying passengers – had encountered on the initial journey to France before flying Sala back to Wales in the small 35-year-old Piper Malibu plane.
“I’m flying along and then ‘boom’. I thought, ‘what’s wrong?’ So I put everything forward and checked my parameters, everything was good and it was still flying, but it got your attention,” Ibbotsen told a fellow pilot.
“That Malibu, occasionally you’ve got like a mist every so often. You can feel it, very, very low throughout the airframe.”
Ibbotson, 59, added that one of the aircraft’s brake pedals wasn’t working after landing at Nantes Airport. “This aircraft has got to go back in the hangar,” he told his friend.
The conversation was accidentally recorded and has since been obtained by the BBC.
Ahead of the flight back to Cardiff, Ibbotson said: “Normally I’d have my life jacket between my seats but tomorrow I’ll be wearing my life jacket.”
Sala had also expressed his fears about the aircraft in a voice note sent to his closest friends as the plane was taxiing on the runway at Nantes Airport. The player told them, “man, I’m scared” and that the plane he was on “looks like it’s falling apart”. “I don’t know if someone will look for me because they won’t find me.”
Cardiff are reported to have offered their new signing a commercial flight via Paris but he wanted more time to say goodbye to friends and team-mates in Nantes before returning to Wales for his first training session.
A private flight was therefore arranged through another pilot, David Henderson, who was unavailable so Ibbotson, a gas fitter by profession who didn’t have a license to fly at night, was called in.
Accident investigators said the footballer, whose body was later found, would have been “deeply unconscious” from carbon monoxide poisoning and that the pilot would have probably been affected too.
Henderson was sentenced to 18 months in prison for recklessly endangering the safety of an aircraft in the way he organised the trip and using a plane commercially without permission.
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