The man who organised the flight which killed footballer Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson has been sentenced to 18 months in prison.
David Henderson, 67, of Hotham, East Riding of Yorkshire, was convicted last month of recklessly endangering an aircraft’s safety.
In addition, he admitted to attempting to arrange a flight for a passenger without permission or authorization.
Sala and Mr Ibbotson were killed in a plane crash in the English Channel in January 2019.
The footballer’s body was discovered about two and a half weeks after the crash, but the pilot, Mr Ibbotson, was never found.
‘Reckless, not merely negligent’
Henderson, according to the judge, had a “cavalier attitude” and had not kept even the most basic records.
Henderson, he added, had intentionally violated Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations “for profit” and was “reckless, not merely negligent.”
David Henderson’s attorney has stated that his client’s legal team will consider appealing his conviction.
The Argentine striker had just completed a £15 million transfer from Nantes to Cardiff City and was on his way between the two cities when he was killed in the crash.
The charge of endangering an aircraft’s safety related to two flights, one from Cardiff to Nantes on January 19 and the return flight, which crashed near Alderney on January 21.
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Mr Ibbotson, 59, of Crowle, Lincolnshire, regularly flew for Henderson, but he did not have a commercial licence for carrying passengers, nor did he have the proper certification to fly at night, and his rating to fly the aircraft used – a single-engine Piper Malibu – had expired, according to the trial.
Henderson was supposed to fly the plane, but he was on vacation with his wife in Paris, so he delegated the task to Mr Ibbotson.
Henderson texted a number of people telling them to remain silent moments after learning the plane had crashed, warning them that doing so would “open a can of worms,” the jury was told.
“Ibbo crashed the Malibu, killing both himself and VIP! A heinous disaster. There will be an investigation “He texted only one person.
“Questions about his flying may be asked,” he wrote in another message.
The father of three and former RAF officer admitted in court that he was concerned about an investigation into his business dealings.
The trial also heard how the plane’s owner had told Henderson not to let Mr Ibbotson fly it again after he committed two airspace violations while piloting it.
Henderson’s wife sobbed in court as Mr Justice Foxton sentenced her husband to 18 months in prison for endangering an aircraft, with a three-month sentence for attempting to discharge a passenger running concurrently.
Henderson’s lawyer said after the hearing that his client wanted to pay his respects to the families of the two men and was considering an appeal.
Speaking outside the court, Sala’s friend, former Argentine rugby player Christian Martin, said, “It’s a tragedy that could have been avoided, and it happened, and it took away a young Argentinian, a young countryman with a lot of dreams and hopes.”
“This happened a long way from Santa Fe and a long way from Argentina, and more answers will be sought in the coming months.”
An inquest into Sala’s death is scheduled for next year.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority’s group director of safety and airspace regulation, Rob Bishton, stated: “Our hearts go out to the families and friends who were impacted by the tragic accident in January 2019.
“Illegal commercial flights pose a significant safety risk, and the court’s decision today reflects this.
“The integrity of all those involved is critical to the aviation system. Anyone flying a commercial flight should always have the proper licences and approvals.”
Henderson was accused in court of running a “cowboy operation” that was more concerned with profit than with the safety of his passengers.
According to the Air Charter Association, the sentencing will set a precedent for the future.
“There’s more that can be done,” said CEO Glenn Hogben, “but it will certainly serve as a significant deterrent to people who are either currently involved in these types of practises or make people think twice about going in that direction.”