Emiliano Sala: Plane operator was warned to stop using an unqualified pilot in deadly plane crash

image of pilot David Ibbotson and friend Kevin Jones
A court heard Sala was being flown by unlicensed stand-in pilot David Ibbotson, 59, when the plane went down in stormy weather in January 2019.

A plane operator had been warned by the aircraft's owner to stop using an unqualified pilot who crashed and died with a Cardiff City football star, a court heard today.

David Henderson, 67, is accused over the tragic flight which saw striker Emiliano Sala killed in the English Channel.

A court heard Sala was being flown by unlicensed stand-in pilot David Ibbotson, 59, when the plane went down in stormy weather on its way from France to Britain in January 2019.

Emiliano Sala was on his way to join Cardiff City Credit: PA Images

A court heard the plane - a single engine Piper Malibu - was owned by a trust but hired by Henderson.

Trust director Fay Keely said became aware of Mr Ibbotson after he was involved in two breaches of Civil Aviation Authority rules six months before the accident.

She emailed Henderson in July 2018 saying: "As this is now two incidents involving David Ibbotson both being picked the CAA I think it would be best if he was not asked to pilot the Malibu again.

"I appreciate this limits the available pilots but it does not give me much confidence in his care of the aircraft."

David Henderson arrives at Cardiff Crown Court Credit: Jacob King/PA

Ms Keely told the court that Henderson was in charge of choosing the pilots for flights when the plane was rented out as she was "unaware" of the qualifications they needed.

She said she did not know Henderson was continuing to use Mr Ibbotson other than for one flight when he flew a member of her family as a last minute replacement.

Asked if she had changed her mind about allowing Mr Ibbotson to fly the plane again in future, Ms Keely said: "No, but as far as I was concerned David Ibbotson was not to fly the aircraft."

Ms Keely said she only learned of the flights to and from France following the tragedy when she received a text from David Henderson.

The plane's engineer, David Smith, told the jury he learned of the accident after receiving a text from Mr Henderson saying: "Malibu gone missing on way back from France."

Mr Smith then got a follow up message saying: "Don’t say a word to anyone."

A tribute at Cardiff City Stadium for Emiliano Sala Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

The following morning there was another text saying: "Call Urgent. Malibu gone down in Channel."

The court heard Henderson was initially arrested on suspicion of manslaughter when his home was searched and his phone was seized where messages were downloaded.

He was later charged by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Henderson of Hotham, East Yorkshire, denies endangering an aircraft by being reckless or negligent by hiring Mr Ibbotson who he knew to be unqualified.

The charge states Henderson allegedly organised the flights knowing David Ibbotson, did not have a commercial pilot's licence; and/or Ibbotson's rating to fly the type of aircraft involved had expired; and/or bad weather was forecast and he was not competent to fly in it.

He has admitted a separate charge that he was the operator when his plane took payment for Sala to fly "without permission or authorisation" from outside Britain.

Argentinian forward Sala was much feted ahead of his planned Premier League move to Cardiff City. He was killed when the plane crashed north of Guernsey on January 21, 2019.

Mr Ibbotson's body has never been found.

The trial continues at Cardiff Crown Court.