A man has admitted a charge relating to the flight in which the Argentinian footballer Emiliano Sala was killed when the plane he was travelling in crashed into the sea off the Channel Islands while en route to the UK from France.
David Henderson, 67, was involved in the arrangement of the flight that was bringing 28-year-old Sala from Nantes to Cardiff in January 2019.
Appearing at Cardiff crown court, Henderson, from Hotham, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, admitted attempting to “discharge a passenger” without the “required permission or authorisation”.
The particulars of the charge are that on 21 January 2019 as the operator of an aircraft he attempted to cause the plane to “discharge” Sala at Cardiff. The particulars added that the aircraft was not registered in the UK. The offence is contrary to sections of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 and schedules of the Air Navigation Order 2016.
Henderson denies a second charge, that he acted in a reckless or negligent manner likely to endanger the aircraft contrary to rules set out in the Air Navigation Order 2016. A jury is due to hear a trial on this charge this week.
The charge(s) is/are that on 18 and 19 January, Henderson allegedly organised a flight to carry Sala when the flight did not have the required authorisation or permission; and/or the pilot, David Ibbotson, did not have a commercial pilot’s licence; and/or Ibbotson’s rating to fly the type of aircraft involved had expired; and/or bad weather was forecast and he was not competent to fly in such weather.
The single-engine Piper Malibu aircraft was flying Sala from Nantes to Cardiff City, then a Premier League club, as part of a multimillion-pound transfer deal when it crashed.
Sala’s body was recovered from the seabed the following month, but neither the body of Ibbotson, 59, from Crowle, Lincolnshire, nor the plane’s wreckage have been recovered.
There was a huge outpouring of grief in the Welsh capital following Sala’s death, with thousands of fans leaving tributes outside Cardiff City Stadium.
A jury inquest into the crash has been postponed until after Henderson’s trial and is scheduled for February 2022.
Lawyer Daniel Machover, who represents Sala’s family, has said they would not be attending the trial in person. Sala’s family have repeatedly called for the inquest to take place as quickly as possible so they can learn what happened to the footballer.
They led an independent search for Sala’s body funded by footballers and other well-wishers and have expressed concern that the wreckage of the plane was not recovered.
A high court judge, Mr Justice Foxton, is in charge of the criminal proceedings, which are due to last for two weeks. A jury of seven men and five women was sworn in. Foxton told them: “People may be curious about this case, but you must not let them talk to you about it.”
Henderson, who is on bail, arrived for the hearing with his legal team in a blue suit and tie.
After playing youth football in Argentina and following a short spell in Portugal’s regional leagues, Sala began his professional career in France with Bordeaux, making his professional debut in February 2012. He moved to Nantes, where his good form led to Cardiff’s bid for him.