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Emiliano Sala: Flight organiser convicted over plane deathson October 28, 2021 at 10:46 am

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David Henderson found guilty of endangering safety of an aircraft in which footballer and pilot died.

David Henderson

Image source, Getty Images

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.

Lawyers speaking on behalf of Sala’s family said Henderson’s convictions were welcomed but his actions were only “one piece of the puzzle” of how the plane came to crash.

Emiliano Sala and David Ibbotson

Image source, Getty Images/David Ibbotson

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.

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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.”

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”.

Emiliano Sala

Image source, Getty Images

However Stephen Spence QC, defending, had said his client’s actions were “purely a paperwork issue” and had not led to a likelihood of danger.

He said his client knew Mr Ibbotson, who had been flying for decades, was an experienced pilot.

Mr Spence told the court the only difference between a commercial licence and the private licence held by Mr Ibbotson was whether you could carry passengers for money or not, rather than ability.

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