Pilot organised flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala for ‘financial interest’

Pilot organised flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala for ‘financial interest’
David Henderson, 67, is on trial charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft

A pilot on trial over the plane crash that killed footballer Emiliano Sala organised the flight out of “financial interest”, a court has heard.

David Henderson, 67, of Hotham in the East Riding of Yorkshire, is charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft.

The aircraft carrying 28-year-old Sala and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, crashed at 22 nautical miles northwest of Guernsey on the evening of 21 January 2019, a jury at Cardiff Crown Court was told.

Martin Goudie QC, prosecuting, told the jury the case involved two flights, one from Cardiff to Nantes on 19 January and a return flight to the Wales capital on 21 January.

Mr Goudie said: “It is the prosecution case that Mr Henderson as the operator, a word we will come back to, of N264DB organised these flights for Emiliano Sala to be flown from Cardiff to France and back at a time when Cardiff City Football Club were in the process of signing Mr Sala.

“These flights were not operated and organised out of Mr Henderson’s love for Mr Sala or Cardiff Football City Club.

“They were organised because it was in his financial interest, he was to receive valuable consideration, a phrase we will come back to, in return for organising and operating these flights.

“The issues of who the operator was and that the flights were for valuable consideration are unlikely to be in issue.”

Henderson had been due to pilot the single-engine Piper Malibu aircraft which was transporting the player, who was involved in a multimillion pound transfer deal, between Nantes and Wales’ capital where he had signed for the Bluebirds, then a Premier League club.

But instead he went on holiday with his wife to Paris from the evening of 18 to 20 January.

David Henderson arriving at Cardiff Crown Court

Mr Goudie said: “As a result, he organised for David Ibbotson, an individual he had a significant history with and knowledge of, to pilot the flights.

“Mr Ibbotson did not have a commercial pilot’s licence, his rating for the type of aircraft N264DB was had expired in November 2018 and he was not competent to fly in the weather Mr Henderson was aware the flights might encounter.”

He added: “It is the prosecution case that in organising and operating passenger flights for valuable consideration when the aircraft was not authorised for such flights and in using a pilot who was neither qualified nor competent to complete the flights that Mr Henderson acted either negligently or recklessly in a manner that was likely to endanger N264DB and those on it by creating a real risk that ought not to be ignored.

“We do not seek to suggest that Mr Henderson did not know what he was doing or care about safety, you will see a lot of maintenance took place on the aircraft, but that he ignored certain requirements when it suited him and his business interests.”

On Monday, Henderson pleaded guilty to a second offence of attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or authorisation.

A jury of seven men and five women have been selected and the trial, which is expected to last two weeks, is being heard in front of Mr Justice Foxton, a High Court judge.

Additional reporting by Press Association