Just over four years on from the tragic death of footballer Emiliano Sala, the story still continues.

Sala was a passenger on a flight between Nantes and Cardiff which crashed into the English Channel near Guernsey on the 21st of January 2019.

Both Sala and pilot David Ibbotson died in the crash and were the only two occupants on the plane.

The flight’s purpose was to take Sala to the Welsh Capital as he’d joined Cardiff City from FC Nantes just two days prior to the disaster.

The four years since have been filled with controversies, legal proceedings, and disagreements.

In this time, we have seen: the findings of the inquest, consequences received by those involved in the flight’s organisation and most importantly for the broken family of Emiliano Sala, the truth as to what really happened and just how avoidable the travesty really was.


Following the crash, an investigation was started on the 8th of February 2019 and concluded at the end of the inquest on the 17th of March 2022.

The jury found that Sala had died due to fatal head and trunk injuries when the plane struck the sea after a high-energy aircraft crash.

They also found that at the time of death it was highly likely that the Argentinian was deeply unconscious due to a carbon monoxide leak caused by the planes exhaust system. The leak could’ve been related to an issue Ibbotson reported to flight organiser David Henderson after the inbound flight to Nantes.

Ibbotson contacted Henderson and informed him of brake issues, potential oil leakages and an unexplainable mysterious loud bang heard mid-flight.

Whilst Henderson did show some regard for the issues raised by insisting a mechanic look over the aircraft, only the brakes were inspected and not the exhaust system which later became faulty on the return flight.

This was the one of many instances in which due care could’ve prevented the deaths of two men.

The coroner also shared many concerns in her report, most notably that the commercial flight was illegal and the fact there is a market for illegal flights within the sport and music industries, where commonly money and profit are prioritised over safety.

The report was sent to cabinet ministers Grant Shapps (former Secretary of State for Transport) and Nadine Dorries (former Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport) as well as chief executives and chairs of many sporting associations, authorities, and leagues in the UK.

The coroner urged these organisations to notify their members of the risks of illegal flights and how fatally they can end in a hope to prevent future deaths from such flights.


Elsewhere, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) began a criminal prosecution against David Henderson, the flights organiser.

On the 28th of October 2021 David Henderson was found guilty of recklessly endangering the safety of an aircraft by a jury at Cardiff Crown Court.

On the 12th of November 2021 Henderson was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He attempted to appeal his sentence in early 2022 but the Court of Appeal refused to give him leave to make the appeal.

The 67-year-old also admitted to a charge of trying to arrange a flight for a passenger without permission or authorisation.

The trial heard that Mr Henderson had arranged the flight with bankrupt unlicensed football agent Willie McKay, both putting profit before safety with little regard for air safety regulations and systems.

The judge told Henderson that he had a “cavalier” attitude towards organising the flight and was “reckless rather than merely negligent by disregarding the regulations.”

The trial was very damming for the defendant with the prosecutor exclaiming that Henderson had created a culture of breaching air navigation rules among pilots he hired.

The trial uncovered that the pilot Ibbotson, who was hired by Henderson, didn’t have a commercial pilots license nor a qualification to fly at night as well as an expired rating to fly the single-engine Piper Malibu aircraft.

Henderson was aware of this as he spoke to Ibbotson about his night rating in which Henderson replied: “who’s going to know” after the pilot’s admission to not having his qualification.

Despite knowing this, Henderson used Ibbotson on many night flights endangering the lives of many.

After the crash Henderson showed little care or remorse towards the pilot Ibbotson or passenger Sala, having more concern for any future enquiries.

In the few days after the crash Henderson messaged colleagues as well as the aircrafts owner Fay Keely notifying them as to what had happened and telling them to “keep very quiet” and “avoid talking to the press.”

Keely, in 2018, asked Henderson not to use Ibbotson as a pilot on the plane after she’d been made aware by the CAA of two seperate airspace infringements he had commited.

But once again Henderson acted negligently and kept using Ibbotson, prioritising money over safety.

Henderson attempted to defend himself by telling the court that he wasn’t fully aware of the precise status of Ibbotson’s pilot license also saying that if the pilot knew he didn’t have the correct ratings to fly at night, then he shouldn’t have done so.

He also disregarded the claims that he should have taken more care when issues were reported about the aircraft after the first flight from the UK to Nantes.

He said: “at no time did I have any reason to believe the aircraft was flight unworthy, I cannot and still do not believe it necessarily”.

Despite this, the former RAF officer was convicted and sentenced to jail time. Henderson is set to be released in May 2023 after having his appeal refused in February 2022.


On the 17th of December 2022 the Emiliano Sala story took yet another turn as FIFA and the EFL placed Cardiff City under a transfer embargo until May 2024.

This was because the bluebirds failed to pay the first part of the £15million transfer fee they agreed with FC Nantes for Sala.

Nantes initially reported Cardiff to FIFA for the non-payment of the fee on the 27th of February 2019, but Cardiff disputed that they had not officially signed Sala so shouldn’t have to pay.

After considering all evidence provided by both parties, on the 30th of September FIFA ruled that Cardiff had to pay the first instalment, ruling in favour of FC Nantes.

Unsurprisingly, feeling aggrieved with FIFA’s decision, Cardiff lodged an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

It wasn’t until August 2022 that CAS dismissed the appeal, agreeing with FIFA that the transfer had been completed and that the original decision by FIFA should be upheld.

However, once again Cardiff refused to pay the fee and advised all the involved parties that they would once again be appealing and suing those deemed responsible for the crash to recoup losses in excess of £80million due to their relegation from the Premier League.

This takes us back to the 17th December 2022 when Cardiff were placed under a transfer embargo as they didn’t pay the first instalment when Nantes sent them the invoice despite losing both the original case with FIFA and the appeal with CAS.

However, with the embargo coming into effect just before the January 2023 transfer window Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan and Chairman Mehmet Dalman paid the first instalment plus interest in the hope of being able to make signings in January with the club being uncomfortably close to the bottom three.

This resulted in FIFA’s embargo being lifted but only part of the separate embargo handed to them by the EFL meaning the bluebirds could only sign free agents and players on loan deals.

At the time of writing Cardiff have recently begun legal action against the EFL to get the remaining parts of the embargo lifted with the vitally important summer window fast approaching.

There were also many reports that Cardiff City attempted to insure Sala for £20million the day after he died.

This came after Alistair Schaff KC told the High Court that the club emailed their insurers the day after the crash attempting to insure him for £20million.

Whilst Cardiff are seeking damages of over £10million from insurance company Miller Insurance, they profusely disagreed with the claims that they attempted to cover Sala the day after his death.

In a club statement on the 19th of January 2023 the bluebirds stated that “It [the club] will reply to the allegations made in the defence that are untrue, or portrayed out of context, in the court proceedings.”


Speaking to Cardiff City supporter Jamie Anderson (@JamieAnderson93) it’s clear to see that the supporter’s views aren’t completely aligned with those held by the club.

He told me: “fans have raised annoyance at the ownership and board for not paying it.”

He also said: “I would pay what I feel and hope that the family and Nantes are settled, and we all can sign this off. It has gone on for too long and it’s not a good image to the wider audience.”

He did also voice his concerns with making the payment saying: “I’m all for paying everybody (family, Nantes) but not for agents, of whom are to have had a part in the deal and will gain millions from it.”

Going on to tell me: “I just don’t feel as if the agent, of whom is being linked to the organising of the plane, should be paid for this.”

When asked about the effects the Sala tragedy has had on the club I was told: “[big impact] financially from the club’s point of view, with the cost-of-living etc going up, having this to pay is a big factor [on the season].”

Cardiff sit 21st (at time of writing) just three points away from Huddersfield who sit 22ndand in the relegation zone could be facing yet another relegation which some will say is a ripple effect from the plane crash over four years ago.

Underpinning all these legal battles and disagreements between clubs, owners and courts is the loss of Emiliano Sala, somebody’s son, brother, and friend.

Journalist David Conn labelled the disputes between Cardiff and FC Nantes as “a stain on football’s image, reputation and honour” and Cardiff fan Jamie Anderson reiterated the sentiment that “it’s important to remember he was a human being.”

This comes after both clubs attempted to damage the image of the other after a dispute focused once again on money.

Many have questioned the respect of both clubs having such a public dispute behind the finances of Sala’s death when you apply the context of the tragedy.


Looking ahead, it appears that the aftermath of the Emiliano Sala tragedy will continue to take more turns.

Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan spoke to French outlet L’Equipe in a rare interview from the Malaysian billionaire.

Mr Tan stated that: “This is just the beginning, not the end” indicating his intention to return to the courts until he comes away with an outcome that satisfies him and other key stakeholders at Cardiff City.

Tan also went on to say: “FC Nantes must be punished. He negotiated with an unlicensed agent (referring to Willie McKay).”

Tan also shared that he and Cardiff will be seeking damages from FC Nantes in civil court due to the revenue lost when the bluebirds went on to get relegated from the Premier League four months after Sala’s death.

After losing both the original hearing with FIFA and the appeal with CAS Cardiff have turned to the Federal Court, the Swiss Supreme Court, and still await a verdict.

Therefore, we can predict that should the ruling again favour FC Nantes then Tan and Cardiff will keep fighting through the courts for damages.

However, should the next ruling favour Cardiff then you can assume that FC Nantes themselves will appeal and fight through the courts.

Whatever way this case goes there is no doubt that it will be going away anytime soon.

No mater your opinion on the situation there is a collective sadness for the loss of such a promising life and a collective willingness to offer condolences to the loved ones of both Sala and Ibbotson and end this insensitive legal battle.

Both Cardiff and Nantes will know that despite their disagreements and disputes the upset and anger they feel will be nothing close to the upset and anger felt by the families involved.

Just over four years on from the tragic death of footballer Emiliano Sala the story still continues.

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