THE doomed plane carrying footballer Emiliano Sala and a pilot was “not fit to be flown”, according to an engineer who refused to repair it.
Humphrey Penney, who is also an airfield owner, said last night he couldn’t work on the light aircraft as it was riddled with “a lot of problems”.
And its regular pilot David Henderson was also “unhappy with the maintenance”, Mr Penney told MailOnline.
The licensed engineer had been asked to give a second opinion on the faulty Piper PA-46 Malibu last summer – months before the January 21 disaster.
But he’s now spoken out after it was revealed the tragic Cardiff City striker was exposed to “deadly” levels of the gas before the private plane plunged into the water on January 21.
The 28-year-old Argentine’s body was recovered and tests have now shown that he had a saturation level of 58 per cent of carbon monoxide (CO) in his blood.
Medics say any exposure over 50 per cent to a healthy human can result in seizures, unconsciousness and heart attacks.
The body of pilot David Ibbotson, 59, has not been recovered from the English Channel – where it crashed en route from Nantes in northern France to Cardiff.
It is now unclear whether the pair passed out and died on the plane from the exposure – or if they died from their injuries in the crash.
Mr Penney said: “What happened, it is all so sad and tragic.
“We had deep concerns about the plane when we looked it at a year ago.
“We nearly took it on but didn’t because there were so many problems with it.”
‘CHRIST, THIS IS AWFUL!’
He was one of a number of experts who had looked at the plane on behalf of the owner, chartered accountant Faye Kelly.
Recalling his examination of the plane, Mr Penney – who owns Sandtoft Airport in Belton, North Lincs – told how he said: “Christ, this is awful!”
He added: “The hydraulic motor was a shambles and the flaps, autopilot and de-icing system weren’t working and there were several other problems.
“There was a long list of things things that needed doing and it was going to cost an awful lot of money to put it right, in the region of £14,000 to £20,000.
“It was not in a fit state to be flown for a passenger but only in an emergency a short distance for maintenance and to get it fixed.”
I cannot say if the maintenance was done thoroughly and properly and if it was all fixed
Mr Penney’s airfield was the second location it had been sent for an expert evaluation after it was moved from its base in Retford Gamston Airport in Gamston, Notts.
But the plane was then moved to Sturgate Airfield in Gainsborough, Lincs – although it is unclear if this is where the repair work took place.
Mr Penney added: “I cannot say if the maintenance was done thoroughly and properly and if it was all fixed.
“But the plane would have had an annual inspection at the end of the year.
“If all was good and dandy the plane should have flown safely.
“I know a very large bill for over £10,000 was presented to Faye.”
CALLS TO DREDGE UP PLANE
Mr Penney, who is helping air investigators, is calling for the remains of the plane to be recovered from 220ft down and inspected for faults.
He believes that even the “tiniest hole” in the plane’s exhaust could have caused the deadly carbon monoxide leak.”
But the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) last night ruled out returning to pull up the craft – saying it will “not add significantly to the investigation”.
Pilot Mr Ibbotson had been widely blamed for the disaster that resulted in the death of himself and Sala.
The striker was being flown to Wales having been bought by Cardiff City FC for a record £15million from FC Nantes in the January transfer window.
Mr Ibbotson was colourblind and his license had been restricted to only flying during daylight hours – while the crash happened at around 8:12pm.
A pre-inquest hearing into the tragedy previously heard Sala died from “head and trunk injuries” – with his body so badly damaged he had to be identified by his fingerprints.
But the AAIB suggested yesterday the pair could’ve already been unconscious when the plane plunged into the Channel near the Hurd’s Deep trench.
The pilot’s wife also broke months of silence about her husband’s death to speak of her “complete shock” at the latest twist in the investigation.
Asked about the initial findings, Mrs Ibbotson, of Crowle, Lincs, told The Sun Online: “It is what it is.
“We just have to wait for the results of the tests.
“It was a complete and utter shock.”
The grieving widow agreed that the new findings put a different slant on the case – after months of David being blamed for the tragedy.
She added: “It was all David’s fault, they said.
“That’s the situation I have had to put up with for months. No one cared about us.”
What effect does carbon monoxide have on the body?
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that has no smell or taste.
Breathing it in can make you unwell – and it can kill if you’re exposed to high levels.
Every year there are around 60 deaths from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in England and Wales, according to the NHS.
After carbon monoxide is breathed in, it enters your bloodstream.
The chemical then attaches to the haemoglobin – the part of red blood cells that carry oxygen around your body – to form carboxyhaemoglobin.
When this happens, the blood is no longer able to carry oxygen. This lack of oxygen causes the body’s cells and tissue to fail and die.
At a COHb level of 10%, carbon monoxide is likely to cause headaches, and at somewhat higher levels there will be also dizziness, nausea and vomiting.
At a COHb level of about 40%, carbon monoxide starts to cause coma and collapse, and at 50–60% the poisonings are lethal.
While his body has never been found, the AAIB confirmed Mr Ibbotson would’ve likely suffered the same deadly exposure as Sala – which would’ve “impaired his ability to fly”.
The report said: “It is clear from the symptoms that exposure to CO can reduce or inhibit a pilot’s ability to fly an aircraft depending on the level of that exposure.”
It found the CO gas would likely have leaked from the exhaust into the cabin from “poor sealing or leaks in the ventilation system”.
The AAIB did not specify who should’ve been responsible for checking the plane but said probing “human error” formed an integral part of its investigation.
Sala’s family said the report raised “further questions” into his death, while Cardiff City vowed to “hold those responsible to account”.
‘WE NEED ANSWERS’
The plane’s regular pilot David Henderson, 64, remains under police investigation after it emerged he had been the one registered as taking charge of the flight.
Det Insp Simon Huxter, of Dorset Police, said officers “have to consider whether there is evidence of suspected criminality”.
He added: “As a result of our inquiries, we have arrested a 64-year-old man from North Yorkshire on suspicion of manslaughter by an unlawful act.”
That dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide have been found in Emiliano’s body raises many questions for the family
Spokesman for Emiliano Sala's grieving family
Speaking on behalf of Sala’s grieving family yesterday, lawyer Daniel Machover said: “That dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide have been found in Emiliano’s body raises many questions for the family.
“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.”
PLUNGED INTO SEA
Argentine ace Sala was flying to meet his teammates when the Piper Malibu PA-46 flown by Mr Ibbotson went down off Guernsey on January 21, 2019.
Ibbotson did not issue a mayday call but did request to descend – before losing contact with Jersey air traffic control.
He is not thought to have expressed feeling unwell.
Authorities launched a search for the aircraft but it was later axed.
A £324,000 privately-funded hunt found the plane on February 3.
Sala’s body was recovered three days later.
The pilot will have been left unable to fly, although we’ll never fully know his physical state as the plane hit the water
In the wake of the AAIB toxicology results, aviation expert Julian Bray said: “Carbon monoxide is a silent killer, the pilot wouldn’t even have known.
“It suggests it was the plane and not the pilot which was at fault.
“The pilot will have been left unable to fly, although we’ll never fully know his physical state as the plane hit the water.
“It sounds as though there was an engineering fault which has allowed carbon monoxide to become present in the cabin and that will be the focus of the investigation going forward.
“I suspect they’ll have put this out now so other airmen are on alert for the potential risks, especially those flying similar planes.
“But it’s extremely rare for this to happen and sounds like there must have been some sort of maintenance issue which meant the plane should never have been in the air in the first place.”
QUESTIONS OVER USE OF PLANE
A spokesman for Cardiff City said: “CCFC is concerned at the AAIB’s latest report which once again highlights that the aircraft used for Emiliano Sala was not appropriate.
“We continue to believe that those who were instrumental in arranging its usage are held to account for this tragedy.”
Sala’s dad Horacio, who has since died of a heart attack, told a BBC documentary in May: “With all the money that had been paid for him, why was it so hard for them to find something safe?
“Why couldn’t they? But they left him alone. They left him like a dog. They left him. They abandoned him.”
MOST READ IN NEWS
Two people are facing prison after admitting they accessed footage of Sala’s postmortem examination.
Ghouls Christopher Ashford, 62, and Sherry Bray, 49, admitted illegally accessing CCTV at Bournemouth Mortuary.
Both admitted three counts of securing unauthorised access to computer material.
Carbon monoxide – the danger levels
Less than 10% – None
20 to 30% – Drowsiness, headache, slight increase in respiratory rate, dizziness
30 to 40% – Impaired judgement, difficulty breathing, blurring of vision, bad headache, increasing drowsiness, stomach pain
40 to 50% – Confusion, blurred vision, shortness of breath, pounding headache, vertigo, loss of concentration, chest pain, memory loss
Over 50% – Seizure, unsonsciousness, heart attack
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