A highly experienced pilot chartered by football agent Willie McKay to fly Emiliano Sala drafted in a ‘rusty’ part-time replacement for the job, it was revealed today.
The Piper Malibu carrying Cardiff City’s new £15million signing vanished over the Channel Islands on Monday January 21 after hitting bad weather en route to Wales from France.
Mr McKay wanted his usual pilot David Henderson, 60, to carry the Argentinian striker to Britain but he drafted in David Ibbotson, 59, after asking him: ‘Do you want to spend a weekend in Nantes?’
Mr Ibbotson, a boiler engineer and part-time pilot, told a friend he was ‘a bit rusty’ with the instruments of the 35-year-old aircraft and it did not have the licence to carry paying passengers.
Describing the time period since, Mr McKay, a mega-agent renowned for his contacts in France, told l’Equipe sports newspaper that it has ‘been an absolute nightmare for us.’
He said that if he had not allowed Sala to return to his old club, Nantes, to say goodbye to his former teammates and put his beloved dog Nala in kennels ‘he would still be with us’.
Cardiff had originally proposed funding a commercial flight for Sala but the McKay family instead funded a private plane. ‘When you spend €17m on a footballer, you don’t put him on an EasyJet flight,’ McKay said.
The Piper Malibu carrying Cardiff City’s new signing Sala vanished over the Channel Islands on Monday January 21 after hitting bad weather en route to Wales from Nantes in France
David Henderson, 60, (left) was meant to carry the Argentianian striker to Britain but he drafted in David Ibbotson, 59, (right) after asking him: ‘Do you want to spend a weekend in Nantes?’
The missing Piper Malibu (pictured) was last heard from as it approached Alderney and the wreckage has not been found
Mr McKay helped negotiate Sala’s £15million transfer to Premiership club Cardiff, and then heard that Sala wanted to spend a day in Nantes seeing club officials and former teammates and his dog Nala.
Cardiff offered him a commercial flight for the trip, but Mr McKay offered him a private plane ‘for free’.
Mr Ibboston, who was known to have financial problems, is said to have told Mr Henderson that he had lost his credit card.
This led to Mr Henderson having to pay for Mr Ibbotson’s hotel in France, and for the flight itself.
Mr Henderson’s details were accordingly given to officials at Nantes-Atlantique airport, leading to initial fears that he had been piloting the doomed flight.
‘Since it was Henderson’s bank card, everyone thought he was on the plane,’ said Mr McKay.
He confirmed he was commissioned by Waldemar Kita – the president of Nantes FC – to find an English club for Emiliano Sala.
The Welsh club showed interest, and after discussions, an agreement was reached in mid-January for a record Cardiff transfer of £15million.
After earning £46,000-per-month at Nantes, Sala was in line to earn £50,000-per-week at Cardiff and McKay revealed details of a letter he wrote to Sala in early January to convince him of a move to Cardiff.
He wrote: ‘Emiliano, I am Willie McKay. We are not interested in personal affairs; finances, holidays, baby-sitting, that is not our business. We make transfers happens. More than 600 to this day, from Didier Drogba, to Anelka, Payet, Seri and Anguissa. As far as you are concerned, we have talked about you with everyone, including Manchester, Chelsea and Liverpool. We think you are able to end up in one of those clubs.’
He continued: ‘We have so far received only an offer from Cardiff, freshly promoted and the manager Neil Warnock has fallen in love with you. He watched your videos then came to see you twice, against Rennes and then against Marseille. He considers you as a typical English centre-forward, like Drogba or Alan Shearer. He says Cardiff will play to your strengths. They will pay you around £50,000-per-week, plus bonuses, on a contract of four to five years. And whoever accompanies you, whether it is your agent or your mother, who, according to English law, can represent you, could claim around £1m from the deal. It is said that you did not want to go to Cardiff. It is probably our fault because we have have said in the media that other clubs like West Ham, Everton, etc were interested in order to create an interest around you.’
Debris believed to be from Sala’s plane is seen on the French coast more than a week after the footballer and pilot went missing
The discovery (above) has been seized on by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) who are now planning a focused search of the seabed to try and locate the rest of the aircraft which vanished on January 21
The two seats were found on a beach near on the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy
The family of top football agent Willie McKay are believed to have chartered the plane taking Emiliano Sala to the UK when it vanished. His son Mark has also been involved in a number of high-profile transfers including Dimitri Payet’s £10.7million move to West Ham (together right)
It was Mr Ibbotson who took control of the plane, and aborted three attempted take offs in terrible weather.
Timeline: How the Sala plane tragedy unfolded
‘The Last Goodbye’: Emiliano Sala posted this photograph on Instagram on Monday, bidding farewell to his old teammates at Nantes Football Club, after he signed a record £15 million contract with Cardiff City. It is believed to be the last photo of him
Friday, January 18: Sala travels to Cardiff to have a medical and discuss personal terms
Saturday, January 19: Cardiff agrees £15m deal with Nantes to sign the player who then flies back to France
Sunday, January 20: Argentinian star goes to say a final goodbye to his former teammates and poses for a poignant final photo (pictured). His pilot checks in at the city’s airport as he waits for him as he collects his belongings.
Monday, January 21: Sala boards flight from Nantes to Cardiff at 7.15pm but it disappears at 8.30pm
Wednesday, January 23: Search and rescue teams say there is ‘no hope’ and reveal operation around Alderney is now a recovery one, not a rescue mission
Monday, January 28: Two seats from the plane are washed up on the Normandy coast
An hour into the flight, Mr Ibbotson told air traffic control he was reducing altitude from 5,000 to 2,300 feet over the Channel Islands.
It later emerged Cardiff’s record signing had expressed fears for his life in messages sent to close friends.
In a WhatsApp voice note, he said in Spanish: ‘I’m on a plane that looks like it’s going to fall apart.’
Aviation experts said the chartered single-engine aircraft should not have been risking the flight in icy conditions.
A piece of debris washed ashore in Holland overnight is not part of the plane which crashed with Emiliano Sala on board, MailOnline can reveal today.
A walker who found the large piece of aluminium said today he instantly thought of the missing £15million footballer when he saw it on the sand at Maasvlakte, near Rotterdam.
But Britain’s Air Accident Investigation Branch has said their counterparts in Holland have been to the beach this morning and confirmed it is not part of his aircraft.
A spokesman told MailOnline: ‘Duty aviation Police have been and inspected the item and confirm that it is not a piece of aircraft’.
On Monday two seats from the doomed plane were washed up on a Normandy beach around 30 miles from the last known position of the plane near Alderney.
Last night police in the Netherlands said they were not ruling out that debris found at Maasvlakt, close to the giant Port of Rotterdam, is part of its fuselage.
But detectives also said it could be part of a ship, despite having the same blue and white markings as Sala’s private plane.
Dutchman Ad van den Berge found the curious looking polyester piece with aluminium coating washed ashore on the beach and immediately thought about the missing footballer.
He wrote on social media: ‘Between all reports of beached seals, I found a strange piece of polyester with a layer of aluminium. Is it from a plane?’
Followers then urged the Dutchman to report the unusual finding to the authorities.
One noted the similarities with the Piper Malibu aeroplane of pilot David Ibbotson in which Sala was seated as the sole passenger when it disappeared just off the Channel Islands.
Dutch Police were investigating after this piece of debris washed ashore could have come from the plane which crashed with Emiliano Sala on board – but have now ruled it out
‘Delta Safari’ wrote: ‘Maybe you should report it somewhere. The Sala plane they are looking for in the Channel also was white and blue. It would be a bizarre coincidence, but it is important to check it out.’
The fire brigade and coastguard started a search as a result for more possible bits of debris, now more likely to be from a ship entering Rotterdam.
A police spokesman said: ‘We are currently not excluding any option, but it can also be debris from a ship.’
But experts have since ruled it out.
Yesterday, two seat cushions suspected to come from the Piper Malibu were found washed ashore on a French beach near near Surtainville on the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy.