Businessman David Henderson, who organised the flight which crashed leading to the death of footballer Emiliano Sala, has been found guilty of endangering the safety of an aircraft by Cardiff Crown Court.
Sala and pilot David Ibbotson died when the plane they were in crashed into the English Channel in January 2019.
– Sam Borden: In search of Emiliano Sala
Henderson had previously pleaded guilty to trying to arrange a flight without permission or authorisation but had denied the charge of endangering the safety of an aircraft.
It took the jury seven-and-a-half hours to come to the decision to convict Henderson.
The plane was bringing Sala from Nantes, France to Cardiff where he had signed a deal with Cardiff City.
A hearing in October 2020 heard that Ibbotson’s licence to fly a commercial aircraft had expired in November 2018 while the Air Accidents Investigation Branch reported that the plane had been leaking carbon monoxide during the flight.
An attempt by Ibbotson to pull up the plane had caused it to break up in mid-air.
The jury heard that Ibbotson also didn’t have a qualification to fly at night and his ratings to fly the single-engine Piper Malibu had expired. He had been asked by Henderson to take the flight as the businessman was on holiday in Paris, France.
After being made aware of the crash, the court heard, Henderson texted people telling them to keep quiet as information they gave out would “open a can of worms.”
He later admitted in court that he was afraid of what an investigation would do to his business.
Owner of the plane, Fay Keely, had also asked Henderson to not let Ibbotson fly the plane again after being told by the Civil Aviation Authority about two airspace infringements he had committed.
The prosecutor in the case said Henderson had been “reckless or negligent” by prioritising his business rather than the safety of those onboard.
He also added that there was a culture of breaking airspace rules among the pilots that he hired.
Henderson will be sentenced on Nov. 12.