On January 21, 2019 at 7.15 pm, a driver departed from Nantes Atlantique Airport. Piper PA-46 Malibu, managed by Dave Ibbotson and that transported the footballer Emiliano Sala Course to Cardiff, where he would join his new club. An hour and 15 minutes later the pilot requested an emergency descent on the island of Guernsey and moments later the radars lost them.
From that moment on, a long and cumbersome search began for several weeks that was interrupted on several occasions by the bad weather conditions in the area and was even suspended for a few days because the local authorities understood that the chances of survival were “extremely remote ”.
While the world joined in a request for the appearance alive of the Argentine player and the pilot, the plane was submerged about 40 kilometers from the island of Guernsey and was waiting to be found. It was David Mearns, head of the private search, who confirmed the finding on February 3. Three days later, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) He announced that he was able to rescue the only body found on the plane and that with that he was ending the operation.
On February 7, the planet learned that the body belonged to Emiliano Sala. There was no miracle.
In March 2020 the AAIB published the conclusions of the final report on the fall of the Piper Malibu and with this made it clear that the tragedy could have been avoided if minimum aspects of flight had been respected. The report ensured that the “Pilot lost control of the aircraft during a manual flight turn” and that “later, the aircraft suffered a breakdown in flight While maneuvered at an airspeed significantly higher than its design maneuvering speed”.
In the 128-page document it was deduced that this maneuver could be linked to the intention of the pilot Ibbotson by “stay or recover Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) ”, since the storm that hit the area could have left him blind. It is worth remembering that in its last license renewal, in 2017, He had not been familiar with instrument flight as he was only flying visually (or manually).
That is why the first point they made in the report was that the plane should never have taken off due to the weather conditions that night: “The flight was not carried out in accordance with the safety regulations applicable to commercial operations. This was manifested in the flight operated under visual flight rules (VFR) at night in adverse weather conditions ”.
The second point is that Ibbotson He did not have enough knowledge or experience to be able to navigate such a journey: “The pilot had no training in night flight and a recent lack of practice in instrument flight.” Is that the 59-year-old man did not even he had a private pilot licenseHe even worked as a gas operator and DJ to finance his passion for airplanes.
The British had a private pilot license in the United Kingdom, which allowed him to transport passengers between airports as long as he did not receive money. He passed his pilot test in the United States in 2014 and the Federal Aviation Authority record in the United States says he holds a British private pilot’s license, which is not valid for scheduled or “paid” flights.
In turn, the AAIB conducted two simulations with the radar data to determine some details about the pilot’s actions. The analyzes ensure that until 20:02 the spacecraft maintained the precise heading and altitude, so it is estimated that the Piper PA-46 Malibu it was being blown up automatically. It was there when he was approaching Guernsey, that a first turn to the right was recorded on a 22º bank that is considered to have been made with the autopilot on; however, in the subsequent action “the bank angle exceeded the autopilot limit and, therefore, it is likely that the aircraft was flown manually by the pilot, either with the autopilot disabled”, according to the documentation submitted.
That is why, and because of the subsequent maneuvers that the aircraft carried out, that “The investigation concluded that the aircraft was being flown manually during this period”, which ended with the impact in the sea.
What was not clear is whether the actions were the product of a conscious decision by Ibbotson or a distraction: “It was not possible to determine if, in the maneuvers before or during the final turn, the pilot deliberately flew manually or if the autopilot was disconnected unexpectedly forcing him to do so. Here the possibility was left open that these Ibbotson decisions were made under the influence of carbon monoxide poisoning.
That is why the third point published in the first in-depth report released by the AAIB is linked to the escape of this gas inside the cockpit that could have affected the health of the athlete and the pilot in flight.
“Toxicology tests found that the passenger had a high level of saturation COHb (the combined product of carbon monoxide and hemoglobin). It is considered probable that the pilot would also have been exposed to carbon monoxide”, Added from the agency on the subject and asserted: “Exposure to monoxide can damage the brain, heart and nervous system”.
That is why in its final document, and thanks to the underwater cameras that captured enough images of the sunken aircraft, it was found that “there was no CO detector with an active warning on the aircraft that could have alerted the pilot of the presence of CO in time for me to take mitigation measures ”. This third point is also key, since if the presence of gas had been warned in time, the tragedy might have been avoided.
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This was the final minutes of Emiliano Sala’s flight according to the final report