Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson suffered carbon monoxide poisoning before crash, report says

  • Video report by ITV News correspondent Richard Pallot

Footballer Emiliano Sala was exposed to harmful levels of carbon monoxide before he was killed in a plane crash and it is likely his pilot was also affected, accident investigators said.

Tests on the striker’s body found enough evidence of the harmful gas to cause a heart attack, seizure or unconsciousness, an interim report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has outlined.

Emiliano Sala playing his very last match for the French club he was transferring from. Credit: AP

Sala, 28, had just signed for Cardiff City when the plane he was travelling in crashed into the English Channel, north of Guernsey, on January 21.

It is likely that pilot David Ibbotson was also "affected to some extent" by exposure to carbon monoxide, the document added.

The AAIB said the gas can "reduce or inhibit a pilot’s ability to fly an aircraft depending on the level of that exposure".

The report added it was working with the aircraft and engine manufacturers and the National Transportation Safety Board in the US "to identify possible pathways through which CO might enter the cabin of this type of aircraft.

"Work is also continuing to investigate pertinent operational, technical, organisational and human factors which might have contributed to the accident."

The plane was found at the bottom of the English Channel after the crash. Credit: AAIB

Piston engine aircraft such as the Piper Malibu involved in the crash produce high levels of carbon monoxide, the report said.

The gas is normally conveyed away from the aircraft through the exhaust system but poor sealing or leaks into the heating and ventilation system can enable it to enter the cabin.

A spokesman for Cardiff City said the club was "concerned" at the AAIB's latest report as it "once again highlights that the aircraft used for Emiliano Sala was not appropriate".

He added that "those who were instrumental in arranging its usage" should be held to account.

Several devices are available to alert pilots over the presence of carbon monoxide.

The AAIB said they are not mandatory but can "alert pilots or passengers to a potentially deadly threat".

  • What happened to Emiliano Sala?

The plane ditched in the English Channel when travelling to Cardiff. Credit: PA Graphics

Mr Ibbotson, 59, of Crowle, Lincolnshire flew Sala from Cardiff to Nantes in a Piper Malibu aircraft after he signed for the Welsh club.

The return flight – which crashed in the Channel – was on January 21.

Sala's body was recovered on February 6 and a post-mortem examination took place at Bournemouth Mortuary the following day.

The body of Mr Ibbotson has not been found.

Two people have been charged after accessing CCTV images of the post-mortem.