Organiser of Emiliano Sala flight convicted over safety


The businessman who organised the flight that crashed, killing the footballer Emiliano Sala, has been found guilty of endangering the safety of an aircraft.

David Henderson, 67, of Hotham, East Riding of Yorkshire, UK was convicted at Cardiff crown court on 28 October, 2021.

Sala, 28, and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, were killed after the plane crashed into the Channel on the evening of 21 January 2019. Henderson, an aircraft operator, had organised the flight with the football agent Willie McKay the court heard.

Henderson had asked Ibbotson to fly the plane. Ibbotson, who regularly flew for him, did not hold a commercial pilot’s licence, a qualification to fly at night, and his rating to fly the single-engine Piper Malibu had expired.

Prosecutor, Martin Goudie QC said Henderson had created a culture among the pilots he hired of breaching air navigation regulations.

The court heard the aircraft’s owner, Fay Keely, had told Henderson to not allow Ibbotson to pilot it after being contacted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) over two airspace infringements.

Despite this, he allowed Ibbotson to continue flying and sent a message to the pilot in which he said they “both have an opportunity to make money out of the business model but not if we upset clients or draw the attention of the CAA”.

Henderson did not have a foreign carrier permit (FCP), required to fly passengers in the American plane, or an air operator certificate (AOC). He had also already admitted a separate offence of attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or authorisation.

The judge granted Henderson bail. He will return to be sentenced for both offences on 12 November, 2021 when he will face maximum sentences of five years’ imprisonment for endangering the aircraft and two years for the other charge.