Emiliano Sala trial: Flight organiser David Henderson convicted over plane deaths

David Henderson Credit: PA

A man who organised a flight which crashed killing footballer Emiliano Sala has been found guilty of endangering the safety of an aircraft.

The plane carrying 28-year-old Sala went down in the English Channel off the coast of Guernsey in January 2019.

The footballer was making the trip from French club Nantes to Cardiff City, who had signed him in a multimillion-pound transfer deal.

The Argentinian striker and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, both died in the crash.

David Henderson, 67, organised the flight and was found guilty by a majority verdict of 10 to two at Cardiff Crown Court today (28 October).

Judge Mr Justice Foxton granted Henderson bail to return to be sentenced for both offences on November 12.

He faces maximum sentences of five years imprisonment for endangering the aircraft and two years for the lesser charge of attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or authorisation - which he had previously admitted to.

Henderson, of Hotham in the East Riding of Yorkshire, arranged the flight with former football agent William “Willie” McKay, but was unable to fly the plane himself because he was away with his wife in Paris.

Instead, he asked Mr Ibbotson, who regularly flew for him despite not holding a commercial pilot’s licence or a qualification to fly at night, to take the flight.

Mr Ibbotson’s rating to fly the American Piper Malibu aircraft had also expired.

Pilot David Ibbotson and Emiliano Sala both died when the plane crashed into the English Channel

The jury heard how moments after he found out the plane had gone down, Henderson texted a number of people telling them to stay silent.

In his closing speech, prosecutor Martin Goudie QC told the jury: “The most basic checks did not take place. There was no paperwork, not even that of next of kin details.

“And, of course there are no records, because there wouldn’t be if you knew the pilot you were hiring was not qualified.

“What he did here was not an accident. What he did here, we say, was deliberate and reckless.”

He added: “This was an incompetent, undocumented, risk-creating and dishonest organisation.”

His defence had argued Henderson's role in the crash was a 'purely a paperwork issue'.

Kate Staples, General Counsel at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, reacted to the verdict by calling Henderson's actions "unacceptable".

She said: “Our thoughts remain with the families and friends that were affected by this accident in January 2019.

"Aviation safety relies upon the integrity of everyone involved in the industry. Unlawful and unsafe activity such as Mr Henderson's is unacceptable and the UK Civil Aviation Authority will always look to prosecute illegal activity.”

Cat Burton, a former BA pilot and aviation expert described the situation as "tragic".

She said: "It might be a watershed moment for the CAA as they realise how overworked they are in this department. Hopefully there will be resources available to them to keep a closer eye on people like Henderson to make sure this isn't happening. It's tragic."

Police arrested Henderson on June 19 2019 just before he had been due to celebrate his daughter's birthday.

It took the jury of seven men and five women seven and a half hours to convict him.