A man has been jailed for organising a flight which crashed into the English Channel, killing footballer Emiliano Sala.
David Henderson, 67, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for endangering an aircraft at Cardiff Crown Court today (November 12).
The plane carrying 28-year-old Sala went down 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.
Henderson was found guilty of endangering an aircraft by a majority verdict of 10 to two after a trial at Cardiff Crown Court last month.
He had previously admitted to a charge of attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or authorisation, for which he was handed a concurrent three-month sentence.
Mr Justice Foxton said: “I have no doubt you were aware that aspects of your operations were unlawful.
“I am unable to accept your evidence that you were in any way reluctant to organise the flight for William McKay.
“You were only too keen to assist Mr McKay who was a client, and your thoughts soon turned to Mr Ibbotson, even though Mr Ibbotson did not have a licence that permitted him to fly passengers on a commercial basis.
“I’m sure you took close interest in the flights, sending numerous messages to Mr Ibbotson, and I’m sure those communications illustrated a lurking doubt in your mind about whether Mr Ibbotson was up to the job.”
He pointed out how Henderson had not raised concerns about Mr Ibbotson’s lack of licence to fly at night, when Sala asked to move the flight to a later time.
“I’m sure you did not raise this because you thought it would be damaging to your business. The only concern you raised was about an increase in cost,” Mr Justice Foxton said.
He said that Henderson’s financial arrangement with Mr McKay “remained opaque”.
'You were reckless and not merely negligent'
“I accept the crash was a hugely distressing experience for you and has had a profound and lasting impact on you.
“Nonetheless, I’m sure in your statement to the CAA you made a number of dishonest statements in an attempt to distance yourself from events.
“In this case, you intentionally breached legislation, disregarded CAA regulations and did so on a premeditated basis and for profit.
“You were reckless and not merely negligent.”
David's Henderson lawyer has today confirmed his legal team are considering an appeal against the conviction and/or sentence.
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.
During Henderson's trial, the jury heard how moments after he found out the plane had gone down, the 67-year-old texted a number of people telling them to stay silent.
His defence had argued Henderson's role in the crash was a 'purely a paperwork issue'.
Stephen Spence QC, defending, asked for his sentence to be suspended today, but this was refused.
Henderson was said to have been affected physically and mentally by the crash and subsequent trial, and is now on beta blockers for a heart condition.
'He now faces financial ruin'
“It has also had a knock-on effect on his wife, who has been in court throughout the proceedings and is in court today,” Mr Spence said.
“At his age and her age they were looking forward to a comfortable and modest retirement. Of course he now faces financial ruin.
“He feels very strongly that he has completely let her down. That is something he finds very, very hard to bear.”
Commenting on the sentencing, Rob Bishton, group director of safety and airspace regulation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority said: “Our thoughts remain with the families and friends that were affected by this tragic accident in January 2019.
"Illegal commercial flights represent a significant safety risk and that is reflected in the court’s decision today.
“The aviation system relies on the integrity of all those involved. Anyone operating a commercial flight should always have the necessary licence and approvals in place.”
An inquest into Sala’s death is to be held next year.