United Kingdom

Pilot, 66, who organised Emiliano Sala flight denies being reckless

The pilot who organised the doomed flight for footballer Emiliano Sala has today denied being reckless and negligent.

David Henderson, 66, was due to fly the Argentinian striker but was replaced by stand-in pilot David Ibbotson who was not qualified to fly the plane.

The Piper Malibu PA-46 was en route from Nantes in France to Cardiff when it plunged into the English Channel on January 21, 2019.

David Henderson (pictured in 2015) organised the doomed flight for footballer Emiliano Sala

The body of Sala, 28, who had just signed for Cardiff City, was recovered from the wreckage. Mr Ibbotson's remain were never found.

Henderson, a private pilot from Hotham, North Yorkshire, appeared by video link for the 25-minute hearing at Cardiff Crown Court today.

He denied endangering the safety of aircraft N264DB by acting in a reckless or negligent manner by organising the aircraft to carry passenger Sala.

The charge states the flight did not have the required authorisation, certification or permission and Mr Ibbotson did not have a commercial pilot's licence or rating and he was not competent to fly when bad weather was forecast.

The body of Argentinian footballer Emiliano Sala, 28, was recovered from the wreckage

Henderson also pleaded not guilty to attempting to cause Flight N264DB to discharge Sala in the UK.

The offences are alleged to have happened between January 18-21 last year.

White-haired Henderson, wearing glasses and dressed in a blue suit and white shirt, spoke only to confirm his name and say 'not guilty' to both charges.

Judge Tracey Lloyd-Clarke gave Henderson unconditional bail up until his trial which is due to take place October 18 next year. 

Henderson was replaced by pilot David Ibbotson (above) who was not qualified to fly the plane

The prosecution is being brought by the Civil Aviation Authority.

The court heard he was 'vulnerable' because he is suffering from depression and his legal team will be asking for a medical report.

The trial may be moved away from Cardiff to avoid any of fans of the city's football club being called onto the jury.

Stephen Spence, defending, said: 'The average attendance at a match was 31.,408 people which suggests there is a string local link to the football club.

The wreckage of the plane which crashed into the Channel on January 21, 2019, killing Sala

'We raise the issue as to whether Cardiff is the appropriate venue. It would be unsatisfactory to have anybody on the jury who is fan of Cardiff City.'

Championship club Cardiff City - nicknamed the Bluebirds - refused to pay Nantes FC the £15million transfer fee agreed for the player.

The footballer's body was recovered by divers on February 7, 2019, and taken to Portland, Dorset.

A post mortem examination showed Sala died from head and trunk injuries. He had also been exposed to deadly levels of carbon monoxide poisoning during the flight.

An inquest is due to be held by the Dorset coroner in 2022.

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