Thursday, 17 March 2022

Footballer Emiliano Sala died after Piper Malibu broke up mid-air

The Argentinian footballer Emiliano Sala was unconscious from carbon monoxide poisoning and died of head and body injuries when the Piper Malibu he was a passenger in broke up mid-air just prior to crashing en route to Cardiff.

The 28-year-old had just signed for Cardiff City and was flying back from France to join Cardiff to start his new job on 21st January of 2019.  

An inquest into the crash concluded today and the jury concluded that Sala died in the crash after being overcome by significantly toxic levels of carbon monoxide from a faulty exhaust system on the small plane, the body of the pilot, David Ibbotson, who was not licenced to operate the passenger flight, has never been found.  The inquest jury was informed that Sala's blood had 58% carbon monoxide blood saturation, which would have caused "severe poisoning".

Investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch gave evidence at the inquest and advised the carbon monoxide is most likely to have come from a faulty exhaust system and entered the cabin via the plane's heating system. However, there was no evidence from the aircraft's last maintenance checks that it wasn't airworthy or unable to complete such a flight. 

Emiliano Sala's family issued a short statement, in which they said:  "The family particularly note the jury's findings that it is likely that both the pilot and Emiliano suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning and that Emiliano was deeply unconscious at the time of the accident, and that the poisoning was caused by a failure in the aircraft exhaust system.

The family also welcome the coroner's decision to communicate to the relevant authorities her concerns about the safety issues arising from this inquest in order to prevent similar future deaths. No family should have to go through grief from a similar avoidable accident."

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch report into the crash was published back in 2020 and told how the Piper PA-46-310P Malibu, registration N264DB,  departed from Nantes Airport, France, at 19:06 hrs on 21 January 2019.  At 20:16 hrs, the aircraft was lost from radar as it was probably manoeuvring to avoid poor weather and came down in the English Channel some 22 nautical miles north-north-west of Guernsey. 

Photo from AAIB Report
Crispin Orr, Chief Inspector at the AAIB said: “A team of highly experienced investigators has been working to examine all aspects of the flight in order to understand the factors which may have caused or contributed to the accident. Today we have made important safety recommendations that, if fully implemented, would significantly reduce the risk of a recurrence.

Routine maintenance is vital but cannot eliminate the risk of carbon monoxide leaks completely. Equipping aircraft with devices that provide warning of the presence of this odourless, colourless and lethal gas, would enable pilots to take potentially life-saving action. We are therefore calling for the regulators to make it mandatory for piston-engine aircraft, such as the one involved in this accident, to carry an active CO warning device."

Neither the pilot nor aircraft had the required licences or permissions to operate commercially.

Orr said: “The chartering of aircraft that are not licensed for commercial transport – so-called ‘grey charters’ – is putting lives at risk. We welcome the Civil Aviation Authority’s efforts to stop this practice through their ‘Legal to Fly’ campaign and other interventions.”

Safety action has been taken by the Civil Aviation Authority to raise awareness of the risk associated with unlicensed charter flights. Safety action has also been taken by the engine manufacturer to improve the guidance given to personnel undertaking inspections of exhaust systems.

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