Pilot David Ibbotson was not licensed to fly the aircraft carrying striker Emiliano Sala when they died in a plane crash in the English Channel, according to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch's (AAIB) final report on the Jan. 21, 2019 incident.
Ibbotson's qualification to fly that type of aircraft wasn't renewed after it expired in November 2018, and the pilot didn't appear to have completed training to fly at night, according to the AAIB report. He also didn't have a commercial license, meaning he wasn't permitted to be paid to carry passengers. The Piper Malibu light aircraft wasn't licensed for commercial flights either.
Ibbotson probably suffered carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a malfunctioning exhaust tailpipe, investigators concluded. He likely lost control of the aircraft while executing a turn intended to maintain or regain sufficient visibility, according to the report, and the plane began to break apart while traveling at an "airspeed significantly in excess of its design maneuvering speed."
Investigators found that Ibbotson had been paid a fee to fly Sala, though they haven't determined who paid him. The report suggests Ibbotson may have felt pressured to complete the trip as a result despite the weather conditions and the fact it was at night.
Post-mortem toxicology tests determined Sala was likely "deeply unconscious" from carbon monoxide poisoning at the time of the crash, though the plane's maneuvers at the end of the flight suggest Ibbotson remained at least somewhat conscious, according to the AAIB. The pilot's body has not been recovered.
"Safety action has been taken by the Civil Aviation Authority to raise awareness of the risk associated with unlicensed charter flights," the AAIB said. "Safety action has also been taken by the engine manufacturer to improve the guidance given to personnel undertaking inspections of exhaust systems."
Cardiff City issued a statement in response to the report, courtesy of BBC News' Jenny Johnson and Kayley Thomas:
We are encouraged to read that the CAA is determined to tackle illegal activities by pursuing those involved.
It is a practice which must be stopped and we hope the industry will be supported in order to prevent this tragedy ever happening again.
The report recommended safety precautions concerning "the carriage of CO detectors; additional in-service inspections of exhaust systems; and the maintenance of flight crew licensing records."