Clinical Negligence & Catastrophic Injury Solicitors
Organiser of fatal flight jailed.
The man who organised the flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala, and pilot David Ibbotson, has been jailed for 18 months.
David Henderson, 67, of Hotham, East Riding of Yorkshire, was convicted in October (2021) of recklessly endangering the safety of an aircraft. He also admitted a charge of trying to arrange a flight for a passenger without permission or authorisation.
Emiliano Sala and Mr Ibbotson died in January 2019 in an airplane crash in the English Channel, near Alderney. The footballer's body was found about two-and-a-half weeks after the crash, but David Ibbotson’s body has never been found.
The judge, Mr Justice Foxton, said Henderson had shown "a cavalier attitude"; had not kept basic records; had intentionally breached Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations "for reason of profit", and was "reckless, not merely negligent.”
The Argentine striker had completed a £15m transfer from Nantes to Cardiff City and was travelling between the two cities at the time of the crash.
The charge of endangering the safety of an aircraft related to two flights, an outward flight from Cardiff to Nantes on 19 January and the return trip, which crashed near Alderney, in the English Channel, on 21 January.
The trial heard Mr Ibbotson, 59, of Crowle, Lincolnshire, regularly flew for Henderson, but did not have a commercial licence for carrying passengers or the correct certification to fly at night and his rating to fly the selected aircraft - a single-engine Piper Malibu - had expired.
Henderson was supposed to fly the plane, but was on holiday with his wife in Paris, so asked Mr Ibbotson to do the journey.
Soon after finding out the plane had crashed into the sea, Henderson texted a number of people telling them to stay silent, warning it would "open a can of worms," the jury was told.
He told one person: "Ibbo has crashed the Malibu and killed himself and VIP! Bloody disaster. There will be an enquiry." In another text message, he wrote: "Questions may be asked about his flying."
The father-of-three and former RAF officer admitted in court he had feared an investigation into his business dealings.
The trial also heard how the owner of the plane had told Henderson not to allow Mr Ibbotson to fly the aircraft again after he committed two airspace infringements while piloting it.
Henderson's wife wept in court as Mr Justice Foxton sentenced her husband for endangering an aircraft, with a concurrent three-month sentence, for attempting to discharge a passenger.
After the hearing, Henderson's lawyer said his client wished to pay his respects to the families of the two men, and was considering an appeal.
Speaking outside court, former Argentinian rugby player, Christian Martin, a friend of Sala said: "It's a tragedy that could have been avoided and it happened, and it took away a young Argentinian, a young countryman with a lot of dreams and hopes and people will be searching for more answers in the coming months."
Group director of safety and airspace regulation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, Rob Bishton, said: ""Illegal commercial flights represent a significant safety risk and that is reflected in the court's decision. The aviation system relies on the integrity of all those involved. Anyone operating a commercial flight should always have the necessary licence and approvals in place."
Henderson was accused in court of running a "cowboy outfit" more focused on profit than passenger safety.
The Air Charter Association said the sentencing would set a precedent. Chief executive, Glenn Hogben, said: "It will certainly serve as a significant deterrent to people who are either currently involved in these types of practices or make people think twice about taking that sort of direction."
An inquest into Sala's death is due to be held next year.