Sala crash pilot ‘suffering from CO poisoning’

The pilot of the Piper aircraft that crashed off Guernsey in January 2019 killing footballer Emiliano Sala  was probably affected by carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

Sala, aged 28, was being flown from Nantes, France to Cardiff by pilot David Ibbotson, 59, from Lincolnshire, in a PA-46 Malibu.

The flight was an illegal ‘grey’ charter with neither the aircraft or the pilot operating under an Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) that’s required for commercial flights.

These and other facts are contained in the final report of the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) which has just been released.

The investigation identified the following factors:

  1. The pilot lost control of the aircraft during a manually-flown turn, which was probably initiated to remain in or regain Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC)
  2. The aircraft subsequently suffered an in-flight break-up while manoeuvring at an airspeed significantly in excess of its design manoeuvring speed
  3. The pilot was probably affected by carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

The investigation identified the following contributory factors:

  1. A loss of control was made more likely because the flight was not conducted in accordance with safety standards applicable to commercial operations. This manifested itself in the flight being operated under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) at night in poor weather conditions despite the pilot having no training in night flying and a lack of recent practice in instrument flying
  2. In-service inspections of exhaust systems do not eliminate the risk of CO poisoning
  3. There was no CO detector with an active warning in the aircraft which might have alerted the pilot to the presence of CO in time for him to take mitigating action.

The AAIB has made five safety recommendations concerning flight crew licensing record, the carriage of CO detectors, and additional in-service inspections of exhaust systems.

The CAA is investigating whether any offences were committed and said yesterday (Monday) that their investigation could take the rest of 2020.

Aircraft Accident Report AAR 1/2020 – Piper PA-46-310P Malibu, N264DB, 21 January 2019


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