Emiliano Sala died in a plane crash ahead of his Premier League move to Cardiff City – fellow pilots tell the Mirror tonight that people who flew with operator David Henderson were jokingly known as ‘heroes’
Image: AFP/Getty Images)
The organiser of the flight that crashed and killed footballer Emiliano Sala was today found guilty of endangering an aircraft’s safety.
Fellow pilots said tonight after the verdict the tragedy was an accident waiting to happen.
A former friend said: “We called people who flew with him Henderson’s heroes, you needed to be to get on the planes.”
The single-engine Piper Malibu went down in storms off Guernsey in the English Channel, killing both men on January 21, 2019.
Ex-RAF officer Henderson, who operated three to four planes, recruited Mr Ibbotson as a last-minute stand-in.
But Mr Ibbotson did not hold a commercial pilot’s licence – a qualification to fly at night – and his rating to fly the aircraft had expired, Cardiff crown court heard.
Henderson sent texts after the crash, saying: “Bloody disaster. There will be an inquiry.”
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Prosecutor Martin Goudie QC told the court: “This was an incompetent, undocumented, risk and dishonest organisation. What he did here was deliberate and reckless.”
Henderson admitted discharging a passenger but denied the more serious charge. He told the jury: “It is ultimately the pilot in command’s responsibility.”
Judge Mr Justice Foxton told him: “All sentencing options are on the table.”
Endangering safety of an aircraft carries a maximum sentence of five years’ jail.
The Argentinian striker’s body was found but the pilot, of Crowle, Lincs, was not.
A post mortem revealed Sala was exposed to carbon monoxide.
His family said questions remain ahead of an inquest in February.
Daniel Mach-over, of Hickman & Rose solicitors, said: “The actions of David Henderson are one piece in the puzzle.”
A source close to Cardiff City said: “This is a positive verdict.”
Kate Staples, of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “Unlawful and unsafe activity such as Mr Henderson’s is unacceptable.”
Henderson, of Hotham, East Yorks, will be sentenced on November 12.