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Crash pilot who killed Emiliano Sala was 'flying without owner's permission', court hears

The owner of a plane which crashed into the sea, killing professional footballer Emiliano Sala, said she had previously ordered the pilot involved not to fly the aircraft.

Fay Keely said she had bought the aircraft through her family's company, Cool Flourish Ltd, under advice from David Henderson in 2015, from which time he became the plane's operator.

Henderson, 67, who is on trial at Cardiff Crown Court accused of endangering the safety of an aircraft, was in charge of the maintenance and hiring out of the single-engine Piper Malibu plane, and choosing appropriate pilots, the jury was told.

David Henderson, 67, is on trial at Cardiff Crown Court having been charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft as well as several other aviation-related offences related to the fatal January 2019 crash which claimed the lives of Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson, 59

Cardiff Crown Court heard David Ibbotson, right, had been banned from flying the aircraft by its owner Fay Keely had been notified by the Civil Aviation Authority that he had previously infringed two aviation rules while in the air

Emiliano Sala, pictured, was onboard the chartered aircraft flown by Mr Ibbotson when it crashed into the English Channel while he was being transported from his former club Nantes to Cardiff, where he had just signed a multi-million deal

The plane carrying 28-year-old Sala, who was involved in a multimillion-pound transfer from French club Nantes to Cardiff City FC, crashed into the English Channel in January 2019, killing the striker and pilot David Ibbotson, 59.

Ms Keely told the hearing on Wednesday that she had emailed Henderson on July 6 2018, saying Mr Ibbotson should not fly the aircraft again after she was notified by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of two infringements that had happened while he was in the air.

She said that Henderson had hired Mr Ibbotson again, this time to pilot a flight carrying her sister a month later, in August 2018.

She said: 'Later on in the year, in August, he tried to contact me while I was on holiday. He was due to fly my sister on a trip and was going to be piloting himself.

'I found out after the event that he was unavailable and had asked David Ibbotson to fly instead of him.'

'He allowed that to happen without my permission,' she added.

Asked by defence counsel Stephen Spence QC if she had warned Henderson not to hire Mr Ibbotson again, she said: 'No. As far as I was concerned I had made my feelings clear that he shouldn't be flying the aircraft.'

Cardiff Crown Court heard that Mr Ibbotson's rating to fly the Piper Malibu involved in the crash, pictured, had expired. He also did not hold a commercial pilot's licence and did not have permission to fly at night

Wreckage of the doomed aircraft was found at the bottom of the English Channel 

The court has already heard that Mr Ibbotson did not hold a commercial pilot's licence, was not allowed to fly at night, and that his rating to fly the Piper Malibu had expired.

Despite this, when Henderson was unavailable to fly the plane carrying Sala between Nantes and Cardiff in January because he was away with his wife in Paris, he hired Mr Ibbotson again.

Jurors also heard that, hours after the night-time crash, Henderson had messaged aircraft engineer David Smith telling him to 'keep very quiet' and adding 'need to be very careful. Opens up a whole can of worms'.

Mr Smith, an employee of aircraft maintenance company Eastern Air Executive, said he had become aware of some issues with the aircraft on January 21 before it was due to fly back from France to the UK and insisted it was checked by a French engineer.

The trial continues.