Emiliano Sala case: Who was to blame?

Case background:

At the start of the year, Cardiff City signed Argentine forward Emiliano Sala from French club Nantes. However, this transfer turned into a tragic disaster as Sala’s plane was lost over the English Channel with both Sala himself and the pilot of his plane, David Ibbotson, being pronounced dead. There was lots of media coverage, tracking the police search and the subsequent private search that took place. Also, the aftermath with the argument over Sala’s transfer fee, the role of his agent and about who was to blame. The post mortem revealed that Sala had died of head injuries, however a report published in August said that both Sala and Ibbotson had died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Victim’s background:

Sala, 28, had signed for his new club but had then returned to Nantes to retrieve his belongings and say goodbyes to his former team-mates. He was then due to start training with his new club. He had been offered a commercial flight, but his flight was arranged by agent, Willie McKay. It was reported by French media that the flight was originally going to be piloted by David Henderson, but the flight had been given to Ibbotson, 59, from Crowle, North Lincolnshire.

Comment from emergency services:

At the time of the crash, Guernsey Police tweeted the following: “There are currently two planes, two helicopters and a lifeboat searching for the aircraft. No trace has yet been found. Conditions during the search last night were challenging, with wave heights of up to two metres, with heavy rain showers and poor visibility.

“Today the sea is much calmer, although visibility was good, it is now deteriorating. UK authorities have been calling airfields on the south coast to see if it landed there. So far we have no confirmation it did. Search continues. Decision at sunset about overnight search.”

The search ended after three days, with a private search headed by marine scientist David Mearns starting thanks to a £259,000 fundraising campaign by Ibbotson’s daughter. The wreckage of the plane was found on the 3rd of February with Sala’s body being recovered of the 7th. Ibbotson’s body was never found.  

The report in August was published by The Air Accidents Investigation Branch said that “Sala’s blood had a COHb level of 58%.” This is caused by carbon monoxide which is an odourless gas and causes seizure, unconsciousness and heart attack. The report suggests that Ibbotson would have been exposed to it as well. The reason they were exposed to it was because piston engine aircraft such as the Piper Malibu involved in the crash produce high levels of carbon monoxide.

The reports also mentions that the gas is normally conveyed away from the aircraft through the exhaust system, but poor sealing or leaks into the heating and ventilation system can enable it to enter the cabin. Several devices are available to alert pilots over the presence of carbon monoxide – they are not mandatory but can alert pilots or passengers to a potentially deadly threat.

Response from football community:

Following this disaster, there has been a huge response from the football community. Lionel Messi said: “While there is possibility, even a shred of hope, we ask don’t stop searching.”

Writing on Instagram, the Argentina international added: “All my strength and support to his family and friends.” Fellow players, including Manchester City’s Argentine forward Sergio Aguero, have used the social media hashtag #NoDejenDeBuscar – “do not stop searching.”

Kylian Mbappe donated £27,000 to the fundraising of the private search for Sala with Gary Lineker donating £1,000.

Who is to blame?

The difficulty of this case for the media is that there has never been a definitive answer of who is to blame as the case is so complex. The new information about the carbon monoxide poisoning would suggest that it’s the fault of the plane manufacturers. The fact that the plane didn’t need to have a carbon monoxide detector demonstrates an oversight that could result in more deaths if it isn’t corrected. Also, the ventilators failed which shows the poor build quality of the aircraft.

However, the agent involved is also partly to blame. He arranged the flight which means he was ultimately responsible for ensuring his player reached his destination safely.    

Main image – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons – By Dennis Kallmer” https://www.flickr.com/photos/denniskallmer/32998930728/ Tributes at the Cardiff City Stadium for the missing Cardiff City (former FC Nantes) footballer Emiliano Sala

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