Footballer Sala likely unconscious before fatal air crash, inquest hears

A 2019 photo shows floral tributes laid under a portrait of Argentinian forward Emiliano Sala at the FC Nantes training centre in France. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala died in a plane crash having inhaled toxic levels of carbon monoxide from the aircraft's faulty exhaust system during an unlicensed 2019 flight, an inquest jury ruled on Thursday (March 17).

Sala, 28, and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, died when the single-engined Piper Malibu plane they were travelling in came down in the Channel en route from Nantes, northwest France, to Cardiff.

The forward had signed for Cardiff City, who were then in the Premier League, for a club record £15 million from Nantes.

David Henderson, 67, who organised the flight, was sentenced after a criminal trial last November to 18 months in prison for hiring a pilot he knew to be unqualified and for carrying a passenger without valid authorisation.

A coroner's inquest - held in England and Wales to try to establish the causes and circumstances of sudden or unexplained deaths based on the balance of probability - was opened separately to determine the cause of death.

After five weeks of hearings, a jury at a coroner's court in Dorset, southern England, concluded that the footballer died of head and chest injuries.

"Emiliano died instantly from fatal head and trunk injuries due to high energy aircraft crash. It is likely Emiliano was deeply unconscious due to carbon monoxide poisoning at the time of the accident" the jury said.

Lawyers for Sala's family said they "welcome the detailed investigation and the jury's diligent questioning".

"This inquest has exposed the complex facts leading to Emiliano's untimely death. It has shone a bright light on many of the missed opportunities in the worlds of football and aviation to prevent his tragic death," said lawyer Daniel Machover.

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