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Emiliano Sala crash: Pilot Ibbotson ‘not licensed for flight’
David Ibbotson was not licensed to fly the aircraft carrying the former Nantes footballer Emiliano Sala which went down over the English channel last year
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David Ibbotson had not completed night-flying training and his private pilot’s license did not permit him to be paid for carrying passengers, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) found.
The regulations under which the Piper Malibu light aircraft was operated also meant it should have not been flown commercially. Investigators found such unlicensed flights frequently took place in the world of sport, business and leisure.
Argentinian striker Sala, 28, was flying from Nantes in France to his new club Cardiff City when the aircraft plunged into the Channel on 21 January 2019. His body was recovered but the body of David Ibbotson, 59, from Lincolnshire, has not been found.
According to the report, Ibbotson heard a “bang” or “boom” during the outward flight to Nantes and “sensed” mist in the aircraft – but may have felt under pressure to make the return flight.
Investigators believe Ibbotson was probably suffering from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning when the accident happened, caused by a fault in the exhaust tailpipe that allowed gas to enter the cabin through the heating system.
The AAIB called for it to be made mandatory for planes to carry CO monitors – which it said cost as little as £15 but could tackle what they described as the “silent killer” of CO. During a press conference AIIB investigators emphasised that a more experienced and qualified pilot may well have also been overcome with fumes.
The report found that Ibbotson was probably manoeuvring to avoid poor weather – heavy rain showers – just before the plane crashed. The plane entered the water upside down and was traveling at 245 knots when the maximum speed allowed is 203 knots.
In a statement, Cardiff City said the report raised a number of questions about the crash and so-called unlicensed “grey” charter flights.
The club said: “The report focuses on flight conditions, the plane and the pilot, and concludes that a plane that was permitted to be used for private use only, was being used commercially, thus operating outside the safety standards applicable for commercial operations.
“A number of mechanical and technical faults in the plane were also found, the most serious being that carbon monoxide had entered the cabin affecting both the passenger and pilot.
“Furthermore, the pilot was not qualified to fly the aircraft at the time of the accident, nor did his licence permit him to receive remuneration for flying, yet he was to be paid.
“The report also highlights a number of challenges the regulating bodies face in stopping illegal grey charter flights, the widespread use of which in the football industry and more widely is placing countless lives at risk.”
Investigators believe Mr Ibbotson and Sala both suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning on the flight, which was likely caused by a fault in the exhaust tailpipe.
The pilot pulled up to avoid adverse weather conditions and the aircraft broke up as he tried to regain control, before descending into a dive and entering the water upside down.
It would have been impossible for either man to have survived the crash, such was the force of impact after the left wing of the aircraft came away on the way down.
Principal Inspector Brian McDermid said of the accident: “The aircraft was extensively damaged and the wreckage was in three parts, held together by electrical and flying control cables.
“The engine had disconnected from the cockpit area, and the rear section of the fuselage had broken away from the forward section.
“The cockpit area and instrument panel were badly disrupted, such that it would not have been possible with any confidence to determine the position of controls and switches before the crash.”
The AAIB report found that Mr Ibbotson owned a private pilot’s licence, but it did not permit him to receive payment for carrying passengers.
He had also not completed night-flying training, and the Piper Malibu should not have been flown commercially due to regulations it was operated under.
Mr Ibbotson was colourblind and his SEP rating had expired three months before the crash, which qualified him to fly a single-engine piston aeroplane.