Emiliano Sala: Flight organiser convicted over plane deaths

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Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, David Henderson was found guilty of endangering the safety of an aircraft in which a footballer and pilot died

The organiser of the flight in which footballer Emiliano Sala died has been found guilty by majority verdict of endangering the safety of an aircraft.

Sala, 28, and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, died in the crash in the English Channel in January 2019.

David Henderson, 67, of Hotham, East Riding of Yorkshire, was found guilty after a trial at Cardiff Crown Court.

He had also previously admitted trying to arrange a flight for a passenger without permission or authorisation.

It took the jury seven and a half hours to convict Henderson, who will be sentenced on 12 November.

Image source, Getty Images/David Ibbotson

Image caption, Emiliano Sala's body was recovered, but David Ibbotson, 59, from Crowle, Lincolnshire, has never been found

Argentine striker Sala and Mr Ibbotson died after their single-engine Piper Malibu plunged into the English Channel on a flight between Cardiff and Nantes in January 2019, set up by Henderson with football agent William "Willie" McKay.

The footballer was involved in a £15m transfer to Cardiff City from Nantes and was travelling between the two cities at the time of his death.

The court heard how Ibbotson, who regularly flew for Henderson, 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.

Henderson had asked Mr Ibbotson to fly the plane as he was away on holiday with his wife in Paris.

Just moments after finding out the plane had gone down, Henderson texted a number of people telling them to stay silent, warning it would "open a can of worms", the jury was told.

The father-of-three and former RAF officer admitted in court he had feared an investigation into his business dealings.

Image caption, Emiliano Sala was on board a plane bound for Cardiff from Nantes when it disappeared from radar

Prosecutor Martin Goudie QC said Henderson had been "reckless or negligent" in the way he operated the plane, by putting his business above the safety of passengers.

Mr Goudie said Henderson had created a culture of breaching the air navigation regulations among the pilots he hired.

Fay Keely, who owned the plane, had told Henderson not to allow Mr Ibbotson to pilot the plane again after being contacted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) about two airspace infringements he had committed.

Despite this, Henderson allowed Mr Ibbotson to continue flying, and his message to the pilot read: "We 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."

'Incompetent, undocumented and dishonest'

Henderson did not have the permit needed to fly passengers in the American plane, or an Air Operator Certificate (AOC), which was also required.

Mr Goudie accused Henderson of lying in his statements to investigators, and of running a "cowboy outfit" after questioning him over failings to keep basic information on his pilots.

In his closing speech, he claimed Henderson ran an "incompetent, undocumented and dishonest organisation".

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