Agent was ‘insistent’ for Emiliano Sala flight to go ahead, court told

A plane operator organised the flight in which the footballer Emiliano Sala was killed after a Premier League agent made “insistent” phone calls for it to go ahead, a jury has been told.

David Henderson, a qualified pilot, told Cardiff crown court he was asked to fly the plane himself after receiving a phone call from the football agent Willie McKay.

Henderson said: “I was in Paris with my wife, Willie McKay asked me, ‘Are you able to fly this weekend to France?’ He didn’t give any details at that time but I said, ‘Sorry I am on holiday with my wife and not available’.

“Mr McKay can be very insistent and kept asking so I said ‘Do you want me to find another pilot?’, to which he said yes. That’s when I called David Ibbotson and said to him, ‘Do you fancy a weekend in Nantes?’”

The court has been told that Henderson arranged the fatal night flight even though he knew Ibbotson, 59, from Crowle in Lincolnshire, was not qualified to fly after dark and was not competent in bad weather.

The plane crashed on 21 January 2019 north of Guernsey. Sala’s body was recovered from the seabed the following month, but Ibbotson’s body and the plane wreckage have not been found.

Henderson, 67, of Hotham, east Yorkshire, denies acting in a reckless or negligent manner likely to endanger the aircraft.

He said he would fly McKay or his clients on internal flights around the UK including in the agent’s own King Air plane. Henderson said: “Flying with Mr McKay was business essentially.”

Henderson said he would have expected Ibbotson not to make the trip if he thought it was unsafe. “I believed David Ibbotson was experienced and capable of flying. I didn’t have any reservations about him making that trip.”

The defendant was asked if there would have been “repercussions” for Ibbotson if the flight was cancelled due to bad weather. He replied: “No. I would have respected that decision. I would have said if you don’t feel safe don’t fly.”

Henderson has admitted a separate charge of attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or authorisation.

The trial continues.

Comments are closed.