The businessman and pilot who organized the flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala was found guilty of putting the plane’s safety at jeopardy.
On Thursday, a jury at Cardiff Crown Court found David Henderson, 67, guilty of the player’s death by a majority of 10 to two.
Sala, 28, and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, were killed after the plane carrying them crashed into the English Channel on January 21, 2019.
Henderson, the aircraft operator, was found guilty after a seven-and-a-half-hour trial by a jury of seven men and five women. Henderson had arranged the flight with football agent William ‘Willie’ McKay, according to the trial.
He had asked Mr Ibbotson to pilot the plane because he was on vacation in Paris with his wife.
Mr Ibbotson, who flew for him on a regular basis, lacked a commercial license to fly, was not fit to fly at night, and his single-engine Piper Malibu rating had expired.
Henderson contacted a number of people shortly after learning the plane had crashed, asking them not to say anything because it would “open a bag of worms,” according to the jury.
Read Also; Sudan Coup: World Bank Suspends Aid to Sudan
In court, the father-of-three and former RAF officer admitted that he was concerned about an inquiry into his business dealings.
Henderson had been “reckless or careless” in the way he ran the jet, putting his business ahead of the safety of passengers by utilizing an authorised plane and recruiting pilots who were not certified nor able to finish the flights, according to prosecutor Martin Goudie QC.
Henderson, according to Mr Goudie, created a culture of breaching air navigation regulations among the pilots he hired.
After the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) notified Henderson about two airspace infringements he had committed, the jet’s owner, Fay Keely, warned Henderson not to allow Mr Ibbotson to fly the plane again.
Despite this, Henderson authorized Mr Ibbotson to continue flying, saying to the pilot, “We both have an opportunity to make money out of the business model, but not if we upset clients or draw the attention of the CAA.”
Henderson had both a Foreign Carrier Permit (FCP) and an Air Operator Certificate (AOC), both of which were required in order to fly passengers in the American plane.
After questioning Henderson on why he failed to keep basic information on his pilots, Mr Goudie accused him of lying to investigators and of running a “cowboy business” during the trial.
He claimed Henderson ran a “incompetent, undocumented, and dishonest business” in his closing speech.
Defending counsel Stephen Spence QC said his client’s actions were “purely a paperwork issue” and had not led in a danger.
He said that his client knew Mr Ibbotson, who had been flying for decades and had logged around 3,500 miles, was an experienced pilot, and that Mr Ibbotson had been in responsibility of guaranteeing their safe passage as the pilot of that flight.
He told the court that the only difference between a commercial license and Mr Ibbotson’s private license was whether you could fly passengers for a fee or not, not whether you were capable.
Henderson also said on the stand that after Ms Keely barred Mr Ibbotson from flying, he called her and convinced her to let him fly again. Ms. Keely stated that she does not recall receiving such a call.
Henderson, from Hotham in Yorkshire’s East Riding, has publicly admitted to attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or permission.
Henderson was granted bail and will be sentenced for both acts on November 12 by Judge Mr Justice Foxton.
He might face up to 5 years in prison if convicted.