In Depth

Emiliano Sala crash: what crash inquiry has revealed

Air accident investigators query whether pilot David Ibbotson was licensed to carry the footballer

The pilot of the plane that crashed while carrying newly signed Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala did not have a licence for commercial flights, according to investigators.

The interim report of the Air Accident Investigations Board (AAIB) into the crash last month confirms that David Ibbotson did hold a private pilot’s licence. But this permitted Ibbotson only to “fly passengers in the EU on a cost-sharing basis, not for reward”, reports the BBC

The AAIB is still establishing what financial arrangements, if any, Ibbotson made with Sala for the doomed flight on 21 January, in which both men died.

Sala had just completed a £15m deal to join Cardiff City FC and was flying to the Welsh capital from northern France after saying goodbye to his former Nantes teammates when the Piper Malibu N264DB aircraft went down in the English Channel. The Welsh football club has said that it has “grave concerns” and questions over the validity of Ibbotson’s pilot licence.

The investigation has also found that the mystery owner of the US-registered plane “had made no attempts to apply to either American or British authorities to ensure it could be commissioned for paid use”, says The Daily Telegraph.

But the interim report “leaves a host of remaining questions unanswered”, the newspaper adds.

Final words

According to the report, Ibbotson’s final words to air traffic controllers shortly after 8pm indicated he had the situation in hand and didn’t need assistance.

As the plane descended, the controller inquired if he required a further descent, to which Ibbotson responded: “Negative, just avoided a patch there, but back on heading 5,000ft.”

Vertical drop

The report confirms that contact with the plane was lost at 8.16pm, shortly after part-time gas engineer Ibbotson “started to make a gradual left turn, which was followed... by a right turn of approximately 180 degrees”.

“During this turn, data from two independent radars (Guernsey and Jersey) showed the aircraft descend to an altitude of about 1,600ft at an average rate of approximately 7,000ft/min,” the report continues.

“A few seconds later...the final secondary radar return was recorded, which indicated that the aircraft may have climbed rapidly to about 2,300ft.”

The wreckage of the light aircraft was found on the seabed 30 metres from where the plane was recorded in final radar readings at an altitude of 1,600ft, “suggesting it dropped almost vertically in its final moments”, says The Guardian.

The AAIB said the ongoing investigation would focus on trying to understand the radar readings from the last moments of the flight, as well as analysing the possible contribution of bad weather.

Basic errors

The report’s publication came as a Fox News journalist in Argentina claimed that Ibbotson had made a number of “basic errors”, including the incorrect completion of paperwork relating to the plane and the decision not to use flight instruments normally used in cloudy conditions like those on the night of the crash.

The AAIB report “makes clear that investigators are yet to establish whether Ibbotson had ticked the relevant boxes, as his licence and logbook were lost with the aircraft”, says The Independent

An AAIB spokesperson said: “We have gathered evidence from radar, weather reports, video of the aircraft on the seabed and interviews with witnesses. Some operational aspects are yet to be determined, such as the validity of the pilot’s licence and ratings.

“Our priority now is to go through the evidence, much of which is extensive and complex, so we can piece together what happened between the aircraft being lost from radar and it coming to rest on the sea bed.”

The remit of the AAIB, which is a branch of the Department for Transport, is to conduct safety investigations into the cause of aviation accidents, without apportioning blame or liability.

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