Last time Emiliano Sala was seen alive before plane crash revealed

Last time Emiliano Sala was seen alive before his plane crashed: CCTV shows footballer at airport security moments before boarding doomed flight – as audio reveals pilot told friend how he would be wearing a lifejacket in the ‘dodgy’ aircraft

  • Footballer was flying from Nantes to join then Premier League club Cardiff City
  • But his plane crashed into the English Channel near Guernsey in January 2019
  • Pilot David Ibbotson was also killed in the tragedy involving Piper Malibu aircraft
  • Mr Ibbotson appears to voice concerns about the plane in a message to a friend

Footage showing the last time Emiliano Sala was seen alive has been uncovered, as it also emerged today that the pilot of the plane in which he died described the aircraft as ‘dodgy’ and vowed to wear his lifejacket during the flight.

New video has revealed the moment the footballer goes through airport security in France, just hours before boarding his doomed flight to Wales.

He is seen taking off his watch and removing his passport before stepping through the scanners and collecting his suitcase alongside pilot David Ibbotson – who also died when the plane crashed into the English Channel close to Guernsy.

The plane is also seen taxiing towards the runway at Nantes Atlantique Airport in the CCTV pictures obtained by BBC News.

Meanwhile, additional audio has been released of Mr Ibbotson appearing to voice concerns about the plane following the outward flight from Cardiff to France. 

The player had expressed fears, too – telling friends in a voice note: ‘Man, I’m scared,’ and that the planet he was on ‘looks like it’s falling apart’.

Referring to the prospect of crashing, he added: ‘I don’t know if someone will look for me because they won’t find me.’ 

An inquest in March found the Argentina-born striker died from head and chest injuries but was deeply unconscious, having been poisoned by fumes from the Piper Malibu’s faulty exhaust system, on the evening of January 21 2019.

The 28-year-old player was flying from Nantes to Wales to join then Premier League club Cardiff City when the tragedy struck. 

New video has revealed the moment the footballer goes through security in France, just hours before boarding his doomed flight to Wales

The plane is also seen taxing towards the runway at Nantes Atlantique Airport in the CCTV pictures obtained by BBC News

Footballer Emiliano Sala had just agreed a £15million deal to join Cardiff from French club Nantes

Mr Ibbotson (pictured) also died in the crash, but his body has not been recovered from the English Channel

David Ibbotson and Emiliano Sala go through security at Nantes Atlantique Airport – just hours before tragedy struck

The two seats were found on a beach near on the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy

August 2015: The Piper Malibu aircraft is purchased by Southern Aircraft Consultancy, a company that specialises in organising the ownership of aircraft into trusts. The trust is Cool Flourish Ltd, a family company of which Fay Keely is the director and secretary.

Ms Keely asks David Henderson, a friend of her late father, to deal with the day-to-day management of the plane.

The aircraft is hired out by Mr Henderson on 34 occasions between October 2015 and January 2019.

June 2018: David Ibbotson, who holds a private pilot’s licence, begins flying the aircraft commercially for Mr Henderson.

July 6, 2018: Ms Keely receives two airspace infringements for times when Mr Ibbotson was the pilot. She asks Mr Henderson not to use Mr Ibbotson again.

August 5, 2018: Mr Ibbotson flies the aircraft again.

November 30, 2018: The last annual maintenance inspection is carried out, including checks on the exhaust system.

Cardiff City FC begin negotiations to sign Emiliano Sala from Nantes FC.

January 8, 2019: Representatives from Cardiff City, including then-manager Neil Warnock, fly to Nantes to watch Sala play. Media reports suggest the player does not want to join Cardiff City.

January 18, 2019: Sala travels to Cardiff and undergoes a medical as part of his £15 million transfer. He wishes to return to Nantes for a few days to say goodbye to teammates.

Football agent Willie McKay, who is involved in the transfer, contacts Mr Henderson to organise return flights from Cardiff to Nantes.

January 19, 2019: The outward flight from Cardiff to Nantes is flown by Mr Ibbotson with Sala as a passenger.

2.05pm: The plane lands at Nantes and Mr Ibbotson indicates to Mr Henderson that he has encountered difficulties with the aircraft and reports hearing a ‘bang’, which he also described as a ‘boom’.

Mr Henderson speaks with David Smith, an aircraft engineer with Eastern Air Executive, and then speaks again to Mr Ibbotson. A French mechanic inspects the brakes but not the exhaust system.

January 21, 2019: The return flight, which was scheduled for 9am, is pushed back to 7pm.

8.12pm: The last radio contact is made with Jersey air traffic control.

8.16pm: The Piper Malibu crashes into the English Channel near Guernsey.

February 3, 2019: The wreckage of the plane is found.

February 6, 2019: Sala’s body is recovered but there is no trace of Mr Ibbotson.

October 18, 2021: David Henderson goes on trial at Cardiff Crown Court accused of endangering the safety of an aircraft in relation to the fatal flight. He has already admitted a charge of attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or authorisation.

October 28, 2021: A jury convicts Henderson of the single charge he faces.

November 12, 2021: A judge jails Henderson for 18 months.

February 15, 2022: An inquest into Sala’s death resumes at Dorset Coroner’s Court in Bournemouth.

March 17: A jury finds Sala died from head and trunk injuries when the unlicenced flight he was a passenger in crashed into the English Channel.

August 26: Cardiff are ordered to pay £5.1m to Nantes to cover the first instalment of Sala’s transfer fee as

In a voicemail to friend Kevin Jones – uncovered by the BBC’s Transfer: The Emiliano Sala Story podcast – Mr Ibbotson, 59, said: ‘I picked a footballer up from Cardiff. 

‘He’s just been bought from Nantes for, I think it was about, 20 million pounds worth or something. ‘They’ve entrusted me to pick him up in a dodgy (aircraft).

‘Normally I have my lifejacket between my seats but tomorrow I’m wearing my lifejacket, that’s for sure,’ he added.

Mr Ibbotson, whose body has never been found, was only an amateur pilot and was not allowed to carry passengers or fly at night.

He told Mr Jones before departing Nantes that he heard ‘a bang’ during the outward flight.

‘I’m mid-Channel and ‘bang’,’ the pilot said in the recording.

‘I’m flying along and then ‘boom’. I thought, ‘what’s wrong?’ So I put everything forward and checked my parameters, everything was good and it was still flying, but it got your attention.’

He said: ‘That Malibu, occasionally you’ve got like a mist every so often. You can feel it, very, very low throughout the airframe.’

‘This aircraft has got to go back in the hanger,’ he added to Mr Jones, after realising the plane’s left brake pedal was not working when he landed at Nantes Atlantique airport.

Pilot and businessman David Henderson, 67, managed the single-engine aircraft on behalf of its owner and arranged flights, pilots and maintenance, despite not being the legally registered operator.

Football agent Willie McKay, who was helping his son Mark’s firm represent Nantes in the transfer, was a long-term client.

Mr McKay arranged the flights and said he wanted to help Sala get back to Nantes to say goodbye to his teammates, claiming Cardiff City ‘abandoned’ him.

He denied knowingly arranging illegal ‘grey’ flights with Mr Henderson, who did not have an air operator’s certificate (AOC) allowing him to fly paying passengers.

As well as not having an AOC, Mr Henderson kept no records or invoices for his business, or the qualifications of the pilots who flew for him.

Mr Ibbotson had also reported the loud bang between Cardiff and Nantes to Mr Henderson – but an engineer was never asked to investigate when the plane landed in France.

He had been banned from flying the Piper Malibu by its owner following two airspace infringements months earlier, but Mr Henderson allowed him to continue.

Last year, Mr Henderson was jailed for 18 months after being convicted of endangering the safety of an aircraft by using Mr Ibbotson’s services when he knew he did not have the relevant licences.

He admitted a further offence of trying to arrange a flight for a passenger without permission or authorisation.

Following March’s inquest finding, a coroner vowed to write to the Government and the sports industry with her concerns about illegal ‘grey’ passenger flights.

Rachael Griffin, the senior coroner for Dorset, said she is so concerned about private charters carrying paying passengers that she had a duty to alert the authorities and question whether the Civil Aviation Authority had enough power to investigate illegal flights.

Last month, Cardiff City were ordered to pay the first instalment of the £15m transfer fee they agreed with Nantes for Sala after losing their appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The Bluebirds had been arguing Sala was not officially their player at the time of the tragic plane crash in January 2019. He was travelling from France to join the then-Premier League club.

Despite the order from CAS to pay an initial £5.1m to Nantes, Cardiff are maintaining they will not pay the French club, announcing that they plan to prolong their legal battle.

The Welsh club said they were ‘disappointed’ by the decision and wrote in a statement: ‘The award fails to decide the crucial question of Nantes’ (and its agents) liability for the crash, which will therefore have to be decided in another forum. 

A picture issued by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch of the wreckage of the plane

Mother Mercedes Taffarel (right, next to Sala in 2019) previously told the inquest that her son felt pressured into completing the move to Cardiff City quickly

Yellow flowers laid in front of a portrait at the Beaujoire stadium in Nantes following the striker’s death

‘Once the club’s lawyers have digested the reasons for the decision, we expect to appeal and will not be making any payments to FC Nantes in the meanwhile.

‘If those appeals are unsuccessful and the club is liable to pay the transfer fee, the club will take legal action against those responsible for the crash for damages to recover its losses. This will include FC Nantes, and its agents.

‘All our thoughts must continue to be with Emiliano’s family, who are now supported financially by the trust the club put in place for them.’

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