Emiliano Sala: Pilot 'endangered the aircraft' in organising flight

A flight operator endangered the safety of the plane carrying £15m football star Emiliano Sala by organising an unlicensed pilot to fly, a court heard today.David Henderson, 67, was due to fly top striker Emiliano Sala, 28, to Britain in the aircraft but instead went on a weekend away in Paris with his wife.A court heard he hired David Ibbotson, 59, to fly striker Sala across from France - even though he did not have a commercial licence.Sala, 28, was killed when the single-engine Piper Malibu went down in stormy weather and Mr Ibbotson's body has never been found.

Henderson is accused of knowing Mr Ibbotson did not hold a commercial license, was not qualified to fly at night or competent to fly in bad weather.

Credit: PA

Prosecutor Martin Goudie QC said Henderson "Organised these flights for Emiliano Sala to be flown from Cardiff to France and back at a time when Cardiff City Football Club were in the process of signing Mr Sala."These flights were not operated and organised out of Mr Henderson’s love for Mr Sala or Cardiff Football City Club. They were organised because it was in his financial interest."Mr Henderson was not available to pilot the aircraft on these flights himself as he was due to be, and was, away with his wife in Paris.

"As a result, he organised for David Ibbotson, an individual he had a significant history with and knowledge of, to pilot the flights. Mr Ibbotson did not have a commercial pilot’s licence."His rating for the type of aircraft N264DB was had expired in November 2018 and he was not competent to fly in the weather that Mr Henderson was aware the flights might encounter."In organising and operating passenger flights for valuable consideration when the aircraft was not authorised for such flights and in using a pilot who was neither qualified nor competent to complete the flights that Mr Henderson acted either negligently or recklessly in a manner that was likely to endanger the aircraft and those on it by creating a real risk that ought not to be ignored."

Mr Ibbotson's body has never been found. Credit: Facebook/Dave Ibbotson

Flight operator David Henderson sent texts to the plane's engineer after the plane went down saying: "Bloody disaster. There will be an enquiry."A court heard messages Henderson wrote: "Malibu gone missing on way back from France. Don't say a word to anyone."Prosecutor Mr Goudie said the wording of this message was interesting, "It's not 'isn't it a disaster someone we've been working with for two days has gone missing' it is instead just 'don't say a word to anyone'."

The court heard the aircraft was hired from an American company but Henderson was responsible for day-to-day maintenance.Experienced pilot Henderson - wearing a blue suit and tie - arrived on his own for the court hearing today.

Thousands of Cardiff City fans paid tribute to Argentina's Sala following his death. Credit: PA

Striker Sala was on his way to the UK to play for Cardiff City in a £15m move from French side Nantes when the tragedy happened.Argentinian Sala was killed when the plane crashed north of Guernsey on January 21, 2019.

Emiliano Sala’s body was recovered from the seabed before the wreckage and the body of pilot David Ibbotson were washed away Credit: AAIB

Sala’s body was recovered in a private salvage operation the following month, but the body of Ibbotson, of Crowle, Lincs, has not been found. A post mortem revealed the football player had been exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide poisoning.Henderson was originally feared to be on the plane because his bank details had been used to book the flight.But Cardiff Crown Court heard he worked the plane - registered in the United States - was hired out by Henderson as an "operator" and he could organise commercial flights.

The trial is expected to last two weeks.