Sala's pilot joked with friend: 'This could be one of the last conversations we have'

  • Katya Fowler spoke with Kevin Jones, whose friend David Ibbotson flew the plane in which Emiliano Sala died.

The pilot of a plane which crashed into the sea, killing footballer Emiliano Sala, warned his friend he was worried about the 'dodgy' aircraft before it took off.

The Malibu Piper aircraft flown by 59-year-old David Ibbotson came down off the coast of Alderney in February 2019.

His friend, Kevin Jones, has told ITV News that Mr Ibbotson joked with him about needing to wear a life jacket while onboard, and said to him 'this could be the last conversation I ever have with you' ahead of the fatal flight:

"He used to describe to me the faults, there was always sort of faults with that aircraft, it always seemed to have problems.

"In the conversation that he had with me, he spoke and said that I'm in this dodgy Malibu and then started explaining the problems he got with it.

"He wasn't very happy, and he said it needs to get back in the hanger and these maintenance issues sorted out with it."

Sala was being flown from Nantes to his new club, Cardiff City, when the plane crashed in the English Channel.

Despite concerns about the safety of the aircraft - including a loud bang David reported hearing on the outbound flight to Nantes - he decided to continue with the return leg of the trip to Wales.

Ibbotson was only an amateur pilot and was not allowed to carry passengers or fly at night.

The wreckage of the plane on the seabed north of the Channel Islands. Credit: Air Accident Investigation Branch

His friend Kevin explained Mr Ibbotson was going to wear his life jacket as a precaution:

"He'd normally keep it in between the seats, the front seats, and he said on this flight, he was actually going to wear it because he was that concerned about the aircraft.

"I took it as jokingly he said to me that this could be one of the last conversations we have.

"I sort of laughed it off, but it was just so sad. That's how it actually ended up."

Back in 2019, a huge search was conducted to find both Sala and Ibbotson after seat cushions from the plane were found floating in the sea.

While the body of Emiliano Sala was recovered, the pilot's body was never found.

David Henderson, who managed the plane on behalf of the owner, was sent to prison for 18 months, after being convicted of endangering the safety of an aircraft by using Mr Ibbotson's services when he knew he did not have the relevant licences.

Emiliano Sala: a timeline of events

  • 19 January 2019: Sala signs for Cardiff after several weeks of negotiations between the two clubs

  • 21 January 2019: The Piper Malibu plane carrying Sala and pilot David Ibbotson crashed near Alderney

  • 22 January 2019: Search for Sala and Ibbotson suspended due to poor weather. 

  • 24 January 2019: After being relaunched, the search is officially called off with the chances of survival said to be "extremely remote".

  • 26 February 2019: A private search is launched funded by £259,000 raised in donations,

  • 7 February 2019: The footballer’s body is recovered from the wreckage, but Ibbotson has still not been found.

  • November 2021: businessman David Henderson was jailed for 18 months over the plane crash. Henderson was convicted of endangering the safety of the aircraft after a trial at Cardiff Crown Court, having also pleaded guilty to another charge of trying to arrange a flight for a passenger without permission or authorisation.

  • A report published by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch stated that Ibbotson was not licensed to conduct commercial flights.

  • January 2020: Cardiff announced a trust fund had been launched for Sala following long discussions with the family.

  • February 2022: An inquest into Sala’s death opened at Dorset Coroner’s Court in Bournemouth.

  • March 2022: The inquest concluded Sala was overwhelmed by gas from a faulty exhaust before dying in the plane crash.

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