It has already been more than three and a half years since Emiliano Sala lost his life. On January 21, 2019, the Argentinian striker from FC Nantes boarded a Piper PA-46 Malibu to join the Cardiff City club, where he was to be transferred. The plane then crashed into the English Channel. The footballer’s body was found 67 meters deep two weeks later, while that of the pilot was never recovered. David Henderson, the organizer of the theft, had been found guilty of recklessness or negligence “likely to have endangered a device”. Years after this tragedy, the investigation took a turn. The BBC obtained and broadcast a voice message sent by the pilot of the aircraft to one of his friends hours before the fatal crash.
“I went to look for a footballer in Cardiff (…) They entrusted me with the task of recovering him on a dangerous plane”, had confided David Ibbotson to his friend Kevin Jones, the day before the accident in which Emiliano Sala lost his life. In this message, the pilot of the aircraft was concerned about the safety of this dilapidated aircraft. “Usually I have my life jacket between the seats, but tomorrow I will (it) wear it, that’s for sure”, he assured his friend, while describing a frightening episode which would have occurred during his outbound flight to Cardiff and Nantes: “I heard a bang mid-flight. I was flying and then ‘boom’. I was like, ‘what’s wrong?’ So I checked my settings, everything was fine and it was still flying, but it caught my eye.”
‘I’m on a plane that looks like it’s falling apart… I’m scared’Exclusive CCTV footage shows the last time Emiliano Sala is seen alive boarding the doomed flighthttps://t.co/0oiJwj3Ihp pic.twitter.com /uL7l6BzsvV
— BBC Wales News (@BBCWalesNews) September 21, 2022
Emiliano Sala: the pilot of the plane was not allowed to fly
Arriving at Nantes airport, the pilot’s observation was clear. “This plane has to go back to the hangar,” he told his friend, adding afterward that the left brake pedal didn’t work. The investigation carried out after the crash brought to light several problems during this flight, in particular concerning David Ibbotson. The amateur pilot, whose body was never found, was not licensed to carry passengers or fly at night. The 59-year-old had also been banned from flying the Piper Malibu by its owner after two airspace violations months earlier, but the organizer of Emiliano Sala’s flight allowed him to fly the device anyway. He sentenced in November 2021 to 18 months in prison for hiring a pilot he knew to be unqualified and transporting a passenger without valid authorization.
A few hours after the disappearance of the ex-Nantes player, the Argentine media had unveiled the last message recorded by Emiliano Sala and sent to his relatives. Recorded in audio and sent on WhatsApp to his friends, it was sadly prescient. “Hi my little brothers, how are you? I died (of fatigue). I spent the day in Nantes, doing stuff and stuff, said Emiliano Sala to his friends. I’m on the plane, it looks like it’s about to fall apart (…) If, in an hour and a half, you don’t hear from me… I don’t know not if they’re going to send someone to get me because they’re not going to find me, but hey, you know… Oh dear, dear, what have I got the chips.” Obviously, Emiliano Sala felt that something was wrong on board the aircraft.
Emiliano Sala was ‘frightened’
His ex-teammate in Bordeaux, Diego Rolan, confirmed that the footballer was very scared. “Emiliano texted a friend during the flight and told him he was afraid, that if they didn’t find him, they would know what happened,” he explained to the Uruguayan radio Radio 1010 AM. I received a message that Emiliano sent to one of his friends in Argentina and he was scared by everything that was happening. I am shocked, because before leaving, he predicted what was going to happen and sent a friend he was very scared.” According to the investigation report, the pilot was “probably” poisoned with carbon monoxide from the engine’s exhaust system. He would have lost control of the aircraft during a maneuver carried out at too high a speed before the plane crashed into the sea. The body of Emiliano Sala had been found in the wreckage of the aircraft more than two weeks after the accident, at a depth of 67 meters.
Emiliano Sala © Pierre Perusseau