Emiliano Sala had been exposed to carbon monoxide before crash

Footballer Emiliano Sala died in a plane crash over the English Channel on January 21

Footballer Emiliano Sala and his pilot had been exposed to harmful levels of carbon monoxide in the cockpit of their private plane when it crashed into the English Channel, it was revealed today. 

The 28-year-old Argentinian striker was killed on January 21 when a plane carrying him crashed two days after he had signed a £15million transfer to Cardiff City from French club Nantes.

The UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch said that both Sala and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, whose body has not yet been found, had been exposed to harmful levels of the gas.

Tests on the striker’s body found enough evidence of the gas to cause a heart attack, seizure or unconsciousness.

It is likely that Mr Ibbotson was also ‘affected to some extent’ by exposure to carbon monoxide, a report added. 

The AAIB said the gas can ‘reduce or inhibit a pilot’s ability to fly an aircraft depending on the level of that exposure’. 

After a major search, Sala’s body was found and taken to Dorset on February 7. An inquest soon after heard he died of severe injuries to the head and upper body.

Sala’s family lawyer Daniel Machover said: ‘That dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide have been found in Emiliano’s body raises many questions for the family. 

Pilot David Ibbotson was also exposed to harmful levels of carbon monoxide in the cockpit

Pilot David Ibbotson was also exposed to harmful levels of carbon monoxide in the cockpit

Pilot David Ibbotson was also exposed to harmful levels of carbon monoxide in the cockpit

The Piper Malibu aircraft, N264DB, on the ground at Nantes Airport in France, before the flight

The Piper Malibu aircraft, N264DB, on the ground at Nantes Airport in France, before the flight

The Piper Malibu aircraft, N264DB, on the ground at Nantes Airport in France, before the flight

‘How he died will be determined at the inquest in due course. The family believe that a detailed technical examination of the plane is necessary.

‘The family and the public need to know how the carbon monoxide was able to enter the cabin. Future air safety rests on knowing as much as possible on this issue.

‘Emiliano’s family call on the AAIB to salvage the wreckage of the plane without further delay.’

The AAIB said it was working with the aircraft and engine manufacturers and the National Transportation Safety Board in the US ‘to identify possible pathways through which CO might enter the cabin of this type of aircraft.

‘Work is also continuing to investigate pertinent operational, technical, organisational and human factors which might have contributed to the accident.’ 

The rear left of the fuselage, including part of the aircraft registration, in the plane wreckage

The rear left of the fuselage, including part of the aircraft registration, in the plane wreckage

The rear left of the fuselage, including part of the aircraft registration, in the plane wreckage

A van by the Geo Ocean III specialist search vessel docked in Portland, Dorset, which brought back the body recovered from the wreckage of the plane carrying Sala, on February 7

A van by the Geo Ocean III specialist search vessel docked in Portland, Dorset, which brought back the body recovered from the wreckage of the plane carrying Sala, on February 7

A van by the Geo Ocean III specialist search vessel docked in Portland, Dorset, which brought back the body recovered from the wreckage of the plane carrying Sala, on February 7

An interim report by the Farnborough-based AAIB revealed Mr Ibbotson did not have a licence for commercial flights. 

An official report previously stated that the plane involved in the crash fell thousands of feet in just 24 seconds before crashing into the sea and splitting into three parts. 

The aircraft took off at 7.15pm GMT on January 21 and flew on its planned route at an altitude of 5,500 feet until it was just south of Guernsey at 8.02pm. 

At that point, Mr Ibbotson descended to fly at 5,000 feet to maintain visibility. 

The last radio communication received from the aircraft was at 8.12pm, when the pilot asked for and was granted permission to reduce altitude again. 

Sala's body was recovered from the wreckage of the plane more than 20 miles off Guernsey

Sala's body was recovered from the wreckage of the plane more than 20 miles off Guernsey

Sala’s body was recovered from the wreckage of the plane more than 20 miles off Guernsey

Fans look at the flowers placed outside Cardiff City Stadium in tribute to Sala on February 2

Fans look at the flowers placed outside Cardiff City Stadium in tribute to Sala on February 2

Fans look at the flowers placed outside Cardiff City Stadium in tribute to Sala on February 2

But at 8.16pm, while performing a right turn, the aircraft descended rapidly and crashed into the sea.

The wreckage was found on the seabed, 30 metres from where final radar readings located it.

Sherry Bray and Christopher Ashford, at Swindon Crown Court on August 9, accessed footage of the post-mortem examination

Sherry Bray and Christopher Ashford, at Swindon Crown Court on August 9, accessed footage of the post-mortem examination

Sherry Bray and Christopher Ashford, at Swindon Crown Court on August 9, accessed footage of the post-mortem examination

The mangled wreck, which was found in three parts, was held together by electrical and flying control cables.

In the days after the accident, two seat cushions, an armrest and possible parts from the fuselage washed up along the coast of France’s Cotentin Peninsula. 

A seat cushion also washed up in Bonne Nuit Bay on the north coast of Jersey. 

Last week, two CCTV workers were warned at Swindon Crown Court that they face jail after accessing footage of the post-mortem examination of Sala.

Sherry Bray, 48, and Christopher Ashford, 62, repeatedly watched mortuary film of the star’s body and Bray took photos from it using her mobile.  

Bray was the director of a CCTV firm in Chippenham, which had an out-of-hours contract to monitor the cameras at the mortuary, and Ashford was an employee. 

The pair were bailed until September 20 and Judge Peter Crabtree warned them they face prison.

Timeline: How the Sala tragedy unfolded over the English Channel

January 21, 2019:

The single-turbine engine Piper PA-46 Malibu leaves Nantes at 7.15pm for Cardiff and is flying at an altitude of 5,000ft. At 8.50pm the plane disappears from radar in the English Channel.

January 22:

The French civil aviation authority confirms Argentinian footballer Emiliano Sala, 28, who had just signed for Cardiff City, was on board the light aircraft. Piloting the plane was David Ibbotson, from Crowle, near Scunthorpe.

January 24:

Guernsey’s harbour master Captain David Barker says the chances Sala and Mr Ibbotson have survived is ‘extremely remote’.  

January 26:

It emerges that football agent Willie McKay arranged for the flight to take Sala to Cardiff but he says he had no involvement in selecting the plane or pilot. He also backs calls for the search to continue.

January 27:

Relatives and friends of Sala arrive in Guernsey, having enlisted the help of shipwreck hunting expert David Mearns. 

January 28:

Sala’s family, including his mother Mercedes and sister Romina, take a chartered flight in a plane operated by Guernsey airline Aurigny over the area where the plane disappeared.

January 30:

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) says two seat cushions found washed up earlier in the week near Surtainville on the Cotentin Peninsula are likely to have come from the plane carrying Sala and his pilot.

February 3:

Wreckage of the plane is located in a fresh, privately funded search which was made possible after a fundraising campaign saw more than £260,000 donated.

Feburary 4:

A body is visible in seabed video footage of the wreckage of the plane. The AAIB says the footage was filmed using an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) which was surveying the area after the plane was located.

February 6:

A body seen in the wreckage of the plane is recovered. The AAIB says the body will be taken to Portland to be passed over to the Dorset coroner for examination.

The aircraft remains 67 metres underwater 21 miles off the coast of Guernsey. The AAIB says attempts to recover the aircraft wreckage were unsuccessful and, due to continued poor weather forecast, ‘the difficult decision was taken to bring the overall operation to a close’.

February 7:

The Geo Ocean III search boat returns to dock in Portland, Dorset, carrying the wreckage of the Piper Malibu aircraft. Investigators wait to confirm if the body inside the wreckage is that of the pilot or the Argentinian footballer – and identified him using his fingerprints.

June 5: 

Two people charged over a photograph taken in a mortuary of footballer Emiliano Sala that was posted on social media. 

June 19: 

David Henderson, 64, from York, arrested on suspicion of manslaughter by an unlawful act. He was later released under investigation.

August 14:

An interim report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch reveals tests on Sala’s body have found enough evidence of carbon monoxide to cause a heart attack, seizure or unconsciousness

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