Emiliano Sala overwhelmed by gas from faulty exhaust before dying in plane crash, inquest concludes

Sala was on board an unlicensed commercial flight from France, which crashed into the English Channel in January 2019. Credit: PA

Footballer Emiliano Sala died as a result of a plane crash having been overcome by toxic levels of carbon monoxide from the aircraft's faulty exhaust system, an inquest has concluded.

Sala was on board an unlicensed commercial flight from France, which crashed into the English Channel in January 2019.

Pathologist Dr Basil Purdue said Sala had been overcome by "severe poisoning" and would have been "deeply unconscious" prior to the single-engine plane crashing.

Dr Purdue added that Sala was still alive at the point of impact and died from severe head and chest injuries.

The Argentinian striker was making his way to Wales following signing for Cardiff City in a £15 million transfer from French Ligue One side, Nantes.

Pilot David Ibbotson, 59, from Crowle, North Lincolnshire, was also killed in the incident. His body has never been recovered.

Hundreds of tributes were left at the Cardiff City Stadium following Sala's death. Credit: PA

The inquest jury had previously heard how blood test results taken from the body of Sala showed he was overcome by toxic levels of carbon monoxide poisoning prior to his death.

The jury was told how carbon monoxide is odourless and tasteless and piston engine exhaust fumes contain between 5% to 7% carbon monoxide, which can be fatal if exposed for more than one to three minutes.

The jury returned a lengthy conclusion after deliberating for nearly two days.

The panel said: "Emiliano Sala died as a consequence of injuries sustained in an aircraft crash where the flight was operated as a commercial flight without the required authorisation, certifications or permissions being in place."

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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The panel continued: "Emiliano died instantly from fatal head and trunk injuries due to high energy aircraft crash. It is likely Emiliano was deeply unconscious due to carbon monoxide poisoning at the time of the accident." 

Daniel Machover of Hickman & Rose solicitors said: "Emiliano's family would like to thank the coroner and the jury for their hard work on this case. They welcome the detailed investigation and the jury's diligent questioning and are grateful for the opportunity for members of the family to attend the hearing remotely from Argentina.

"This inquest has exposed the complex facts leading to Emiliano's untimely death. It has shone a bright light on many of the missed opportunities in the worlds of football and aviation to prevent his tragic death.

"The family also welcome the coroner's decision to communicate to the relevant authorities her concerns about the safety issues arising from this inquest in order to prevent similar future deaths. No family should have to go through grief from a similar avoidable accident."

Sala was on board an unlicensed commercial flight from France, which crashed into the English Channel. Credit: PA Images

In a statement, a spokesman for Cardiff City said: "Cardiff City FC respects the jury's verdict at the Emiliano Sala inquest and hopes that its conclusion will now allow the Sala family a sense of peace and closure.

"We are pleased that the truth has been firmly established in a court of law, particularly the facts surrounding the organisation of the illegal flight.

"Any misgivings pertaining to Cardiff City's involvement in its organisation should now cease."

The Piper Malibu aircraft Sala was a passenger on had left Nantes airport at 7:15pm on January 21 for the flight to Cardiff but radar contact was lost at 8:15pm near Guernsey.

The plane wreckage was located on the seabed on February 3 and Sala's body was found three days later.

In November last year, a 67-year-old man was jailed for organising the flight Sala and Ibboston were onboard. David Henderson was sentenced to 18 months in prison for endangering an aircraft.