Pilot in Emiliano Sala Crash Lacked Commercial License
LONDON — The pilot of a small plane that crashed into the English Channel last year, killing the Argentine soccer player Emiliano Sala, was not licensed to fly commercially, and neither was the aircraft, investigators said in a report released on Friday.
Mr. Sala, 28, had been flying from France to Wales with David Ibbotson as his pilot to play for Cardiff City of the English Premier League when the plane vanished on the evening of Jan. 21, 2019. The soccer player’s body was recovered a month later, and the pilot’s body has never been found.
The report released on Friday from Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch concluded that the pilot had no training in night flying and had been out of practice in instrument flying — or navigating using only the plane’s tools — and lost control of the aircraft before it plunged into the sea.
“The impact with the sea was not survivable,” the report noted.
At the time, Mr. Ibbotson, 59, was most likely trying to turn the plane, a Piper Malibu, to avoid bad weather, the report said, concluding that the aircraft was traveling at a speed “significantly in excess of its design maneuvering speed.”
Mr. Ibbotson “was not qualified to fly the aircraft at the time of the accident,” the report said. “Neither the pilot nor aircraft had the required licenses or permissions to operate commercially.”
Though the pilot was expecting to be paid, his private license did not permit him to conduct commercial flights. The single-engine, propeller-driven plane was also supposed to be operated for private use only and no one had sought the relevant permissions to allow it to fly commercially, the report said.
“The aircraft was not being operated in accordance with safety standards applicable to commercial operations,” the report said.
Earlier, the investigation had said that the soccer player suffered carbon monoxide poisoning in the crash. The report released on Thursday confirmed that Mr. Ibbotson had probably also been affected by the poisonous gas, most likely caused by a fault in the exhaust tailpipe that allowed gas to leak through to the cabin via the heating system.
It also found that the aircraft had not been fitted with a carbon-monoxide detector, which might have alerted the pilot in time for him to take action.
A lawyer for the Sala family could not be immediately reached for comment.
Before the plane vanished over the English Channel, Mr. Sala sent an audio message in which he said “I’m so afraid,” and warned that the aircraft “seems like it’s falling to pieces.”
Mr. Sala had scored more league goals than any other Argentine player in Europe’s major leagues. He had been in Nantes, France, on the day of the flight to say goodbye to his teammates in the French league, according to The Guardian, and had been scheduled to start training with Cardiff City.
His death prompted an outpouring of grief by soccer fans and his team.
On the anniversary of Mr. Sala’s death, another lawyer for the player’s relatives said they would mark it in “private, quiet contemplation of their loss.”
“The family’s primary concern remains for the full inquest to take place as soon as possible, so that they can finally learn the truth about what happened and ensure that no family has to suffer a similar preventable loss of a loved one,” the lawyer, Daniel Machover of Hickman and Rose solicitors, said in January.
While both clubs paid tribute to Mr. Sala on the anniversary of his death, a fight over payment for his transfer had been brewing for months.
Cardiff City F.C. had refused to pay the first installment of 6 million euros, around $6.6 million, toward the fee.
The club claimed it was not liable to pay F.C. Nantes for Mr. Sala because the deal was not legally binding. But FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, ruled in September that Cardiff City must uphold the agreement.
The soccer club appealed against the decision and the case is expected to be heard at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, this spring.
A British court also plans a separate inquest into the soccer player’s death. No date has been set, though a pre-inquest review is expected to take place next week.