Man who organised Emiliano Sala flight convicted over plane deaths

A businessman and former RAF officer who organised the flight that crashed, killing footballer Emiliano Sala, has been found guilty of endangering the safety of an aircraft.

David Henderson, 67, was convicted by a majority verdict of 10 to two by a jury at Cardiff crown court on Thursday.

Sala, 28, and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, were killed after the plane crashed into the Channel on the evening of 21 January 2019.

Henderson, who was on holiday with his wife in Paris at the time, had asked Ibbotson to fly the plane.

Ibbotson, who regularly flew for him, did not hold a commercial pilot’s licence, a qualification to fly at night, and his rating to fly the single-engine Piper Malibu had expired.

The jury heard how moments after finding out the plane had gone down, Henderson sent messages to multiple people telling them not to talk about it, and warned them that it would “open a can of worms”.

Henderson also admitted to the court that he had feared an investigation into his business dealings.

Lawyers speaking on behalf of Sala's family said Henderson's convictions were welcomed but his actions were only "one piece of the puzzle" of how the plane came to crash.

Prosecutor Martin Goudie QC said Henderson had been "reckless or negligent" in the way he operated the plane, by putting his business above the safety of passengers.

Mr Goudie said Henderson had created a culture of breaching the air navigation regulations among the pilots he hired.

Fay Keely, who owned the plane, had told Henderson not to allow Mr Ibbotson to pilot the plane again after being contacted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) about two airspace infringements he had committed.

Despite this, Henderson allowed Mr Ibbotson to continue flying, and his message to the pilot read: "We both have an opportunity to make money out of the business model but not if we upset clients or draw the attention of the CAA."

Henderson did not have a foreign carrier permit (FCP), required to fly passengers in the American plane, or an air operator certificate (AOC).

During the trial, Goudie claimed Henderson lied in statements to investigators and that he ran a “cowboy outfit”. In his closing speech he accused him of running an “incompetent, undocumented and dishonest organisation”.

However Stephen Spence QC, defending, had said his client's actions were "purely a paperwork issue" and had not led to a likelihood of danger.

He said his client knew Mr Ibbotson, who had been flying for decades, was an experienced pilot.

Mr Spence told the court the only difference between a commercial licence and the private licence held by Mr Ibbotson was whether you could carry passengers for money or not, rather than ability.

Henderson also argued on the stand that he had phoned Ms Keely after she forbade Mr Ibbotson from flying and convinced her to let him pilot again.

Ms Keely said she does not remember such a call.

The judge, Mr Justice Foxton, granted Henderson bail. He will return to be sentenced for both offences on 12 November when he will face maximum sentences of five years’ imprisonment for endangering the aircraft and two years for the other charge.