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Emiliano Sala death flight: Plane operator ‘badly affected’ by crash, court told

·4 min read

The operator of a plane which crashed, killing footballer Emiliano Sala, has said “not a day or hour goes by” that he does not think about the incident.

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

The 67-year-old, who began his evidence at Cardiff Crown Court on Thursday, told the jury he had been “badly affected” since the plane crash.

The single-engine Piper Malibu aircraft was carrying the 28-year-old striker and pilot David Ibbotson when it went down 22 nautical miles north-west of Guernsey on the evening of January 21 2019.

Henderson said he had been on holiday with his wife in Paris when he was contacted by football agent William “Willie” McKay who wanted him to fly to Nantes but he said he could not do the job, he told the court.

He said he had known Mr McKay for a number of years and hired out a number of planes to him. He said he did not know who Sala was as he had “no interest in football”.

Mr McKay could be “insistent”, Henderson said, so he offered to find an available pilot. He rang Mr Ibbotson, whom he claimed “immediately said yes”.

David Henderson court case
David Henderson is accused of endangering the safety of an aircraft over the crash in which Emiliano Sala died (Jacob King/PA)

Henderson told the court that while he had organised the flight with Mr McKay, Mr Ibbotson was ultimately responsible for the safe passage of the aircraft.

“My intention was to leave it with him (Mr Ibbotson). He had taken over responsibility of everything related to the flight,” Henderson said.

Asked by his counsel, Stephen Spence QC, whose responsibility it was to ensure a safe flight, Henderson said: “Ultimately it was the pilot in command.”

He said he was not concerned about Mr Ibbotson’s ability to fly, describing him as an “experienced” pilot.

He added he was “reassured” about concerns raised by Mr Ibbotson about the aircraft’s mechanics, after it landed in Nantes where it was examined by a French engineer.

After receiving the news that air traffic controllers had lost contact with the plane, Henderson said he was “very, very concerned. Distressed really. I feared the worst”.

He added: “The whole scenario, the loss of an airplane, someone I know, and a passenger is very desperate.

“I was badly affected by the news.”

Police arrested him at his home on June 19 2019 just before he had been due to celebrate his daughter’s birthday, the court was told.

Sala plane crash
A French engineer raised concerns about the mechanical condition of the Piper Malibu aircraft N264DB when it landed in Nantes (PA)

Henderson said: “It came as a real shock. I felt numb. It was a total surprise.

“I’ve had huge anxiety. Not a day or hour goes by without it being in my mind.”

Fay Keely, the owner of the plane, told the court on Wednesday that she had informed Henderson that Mr Ibbotson should not fly the aircraft again after she was notified by the Civil Aviation Authority of two infringements that had happened while he was in the air.

Ms Keely said: “As far as I was concerned, I had made my feelings clear that he shouldn’t be flying the aircraft.”

However, Henderson said he phoned Ms Keely after receiving the order from her by email to explain the situation and that he had changed her mind about Mr Ibbotson.

Henderson told the court: “I said he’s [Mr Ibbotson] mortified by it and admitted his mistake and that it won’t happen again.

“I believe I’d brought her around about David Ibbotson.”

Mr Spence said: “If you thought there was a problem would you have used him to fly her sister a month later?”

Henderson said: “No.”

The court heard how Henderson had got his private pilot’s licence in 1983 after serving in the RAF for two years, later getting a commercial licence to fly in the UK and America. He said he used this to co-pilot and travelled “literally all over the world”.

The trial continues.

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