Debt-ridden Emiliano Sala pilot was touting for  work on Facebook

Part-time pilot had £18,000 debts and was touting for ‘odd-job’ work on Facebook before being hired at the last minute to fly Cardiff City star – as plane ‘may have ditched near sunken British sub and dumped WWI weapons’

  • Pilot Dave Ibbotson held private licence but investigators will probe if he needed a commercial licence 
  • Harbour master has said air and sea searches are over because ‘chances of survival are extremely remote’
  • Plane may have plunged into one of Channel’s most perilous areas, a 600ft sea valley known as Hurd’s Deep
  • Family of missing footballer Emiliano Sala are furious the hunt for him is over as his sister arrived in the UK
  • Sobbing sister Romina said: ‘Please, please, don’t stop the search. I know he’s still alive. He’d never give up’
  • Experts believe the sudden disappearance may have been a crash caused by a buildup of ice on the wings 

The part-time pilot missing with £15million footballer Emiliano Sala was brought in at the 11th hour, touted for ‘odd flying jobs’ on Facebook and had unpaid debts of £18,000, it was revealed today.  

The Piper Malibu carrying Sala from Nantes to Cardiff vanished over Alderney on Monday night and is feared to have plunged into one of the Channel’s most perilous areas, known as Hurd’s Deep.

British submarine HMS Affray sits on the seabed of the 600ft deep underwater valley after sinking in 1951 and lies next to tonnes of radioactive waste, chemical weapons and munitions dumped into its depths after both world wars. 

Today it emerged that pilot Dave Ibbotson, 60, a father of four boiler engineer from Scunthorpe, had four outstanding county court judgments, totalling £18,000, at the time of the crash.

MailOnline revealed yesterday the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) is investigating whether the flight chartered by the son of mega-agent Willie McKay was legal – because Mr Ibbotson was not licensed to carry paying passengers.

A friend told The Sun: ‘I always thought he was a better plumber than he was a pilot. I think we knew he did the odd bit of flying on the side to earn a bit of crust — but nothing as big as the France job.’  

Officials at Nantes-Atlantique airport have insisted that David Henderson, a highly experienced pilot in his 60s, was set to take the controls of the Piper PA-46 Malibu on Monday night – but it appears Mr Ibbotson stepped in at the 11th hour.

David Ibbotson, 60, has been named as the pilot at the controls of the privately-owned Piper Malibu aircraft carrying star footballer Sala as it emerged the investigation will involve checking the flight was legal


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But he pulled out, leaving Mr Ibbotson to fly Sala, 28, to Wales, where he had been due to take part in his first training sessions with his new club.

David Ibbotson was better-known to his friends as a plumber than a pilot

Mr Henderson posted a message on Facebook on Tuesday night reading: ‘Contrary to press reports, I am not dead!!!’ He then deleted the account and declined interviews.  

The airman, from Scunthorpe, often flew skydivers to jump sites, and belonged to three ‘ferry flight’ Facebook groups where companies advertise flying jobs. 

He had worked for Mark McKay – son of former mega agent Willie McKay – who played a part in arranging Sala’s flight, before using the same plane. He flew Nice FC general manager Julien Fournier from Surrey to the French port of Marseille in the single-engined US-registered Piper last year.

Investigators are to probe the licence of missing part-time pilot Dave Ibbotson who flew the doomed aircraft that vanished over the Channel, MailOnline can exclusively reveal. 

The news came after the bereft sister of missing £15million footballer Emiliano Sala sobbed today after she learned the search for him was called off and said: ‘I know he’s still alive. He would never give up’.

Romina Sala broke down at a press conference in Cardiff yesterday after flying into the Welsh capital from Argentina to meet his club bosses. 

Her brother, 28, and Ibbotson, 60, are both feared dead after coastguards said search efforts were now focused on recovery, with no hope of finding survivors. 


Nantes head coach Vahid Halilhodzic comforts tearful player Majeed Waris during a tribute for Emiliano Sala, which also appeared to reduce him to tears

Emiliano Sala is missing presumed dead after the plane he and pilot Dave Ibbotson were taking to Cardiff dropped off radar over the Channel Islands on Monday evening

The six-seater Piper Malibu vanished off the coast of Alderney on Monday at 8.30pm but 72 hours on, harbour master Captain David Barker said air and sea searches are over because ‘the chances of survival at this stage are extremely remote’.

Timeline: How the Sala plane tragedy unfolded 

‘The Last Goodbye’: Emiliano Sala posted this photograph on Instagram on Monday, bidding farewell to his old teammates at Nantes Football Club, after he signed a record £15 million contract with Cardiff City. It is believed to be the last photo of him

Friday, January 18: Sala travels to Cardiff to have a medical and discuss personal terms 

Saturday, January 19: Cardiff agrees £15m deal with Nantes to sign the player who then flies back to France

Sunday, January 20: Argentinian star goes to say a final goodbye to his former teammates and poses for a poignant final photo (pictured). His pilot checks in at the city’s airport as he waits for him as he collects his belongings.

Monday, January 21: Sala boards flight from Nantes to Cardiff at 7.15pm but it disappears at 8.30pm

Wednesday, January 23: Search and rescue teams say there is ‘no hope’ and reveal operation around Alderney is now a recovery one, not a rescue mission

Thursday, January 24:  The search for the men is ended

Ships passing through the Channel are now being asked to look out for debris – but Sala’s family are furious at the decision to stop searching for the 28-year-old.

In emotional scenes today outside the St David’s Hotel in Cardiff, his sister Romina Sala begged: ‘Please, please, please don’t stop the search.’

She told the media: ‘We understand the facts and we really appreciate the efforts.

‘We want to say thanks to the two clubs and everyone who is looking for Emiliano, but my message is please, please, please don’t stop with the search. For me, they are still alive.

‘It is very difficult to express my feelings at the moment because it is really hard.

‘We have had a lot of support from the two clubs and I thank all the fans for their efforts, but deep down in the bottom of my heart I know that Emiliano – who is a fighter – is still alive.

‘I know Emiliano and the pilot are somewhere in the middle of the channel. We are not going to give up.’

She added: ‘The last time I spoke to him was on Monday before he said farewell to the Nantes players. He was really excited about coming to Cardiff and we were talking all day.’

Captain Barker responded by saying: ‘I understand Emiliano Sala’s family are not content. But I am absolutely confident we could not have done any more’.

Meanwhile Sala’s ex-girlfriend, who after his disappearance blamed the ‘football mafia’ in a hastily-deleted online post, reiterated today that she found the incident ‘all very strange’.

Victoria’s Secret model Berenice Schkair, said on social media: ‘Please ask in all the world’s media that they don’t cancel the search, that President Macri seeks justice, and that they don’t stop looking for Emiliano Sala.

She later added, via a text exchange with an Argentinian journalist: ‘I’d last seen him a fortnight ago and was getting to know him. We were beginning a relationship.

‘For me this is all very strange. A plane can’t disappear just like that. This happened at the best time in his life. It seems odd that he was in a plane in those conditions. But I prefer to wait now to see what happens.’ 

Romina Sala’s sister sobbed today as she was told the search for her footballer brother Emiliano was called off after 72 hours

More tributes were left to Emiliano Sala in Cardiff tonight, including a huge banner promising the club’s fans would ‘love him forever more’, after the search for the missing footballer’s plane was called off


The sea of flowers scarves and tributes outside the Cardiff ground has continued to grow (right) including a moving candlelit collage of Sala’s days playing for Nantes (left)

Mr Ibbotson, from Scunthorpe, gained his private pilot’s licence in the US but does not have a commercial licence for paid for or scheduled flights

In Facebook posts in the hours before the doomed flight Mr Ibbotson told a friend he was ‘a bit rusty with the ILS (Instrument Landing System)’

Tonight in a statement Cardiff City FC said the club reported the calling off of the search ‘with a heavy heart’.

Club owner Tan Sri Vincent Tan said: ‘Monday evening’s news shook everyone at Cardiff City FC to the core. We were looking forward to providing Emiliano with the next step in his life and career.

‘Those who met Emiliano described a good-natured and humble young man who was eager to impress in the Premier League.

Missing Cardiff City star’s distraught ex-girlfriend calls for the ‘soccer mafia to be investigated’ 

Model Berenice Schkair, 27, made the extraordinary claim on social media after the new Cardiff City star’s plane went missing over the English Channel after taking off in Nantes, France

Emiliano Sala’s heartbroken underwear model ex-girlfriend has blamed the ‘football mafia’ after his plane vanished over the Channel and said: ‘I can’t believe this is an accident’.

Victoria’s Secret star Berenice Schkair, 27, made the extraordinary claim on social media after the new Cardiff City star’s plane went missing over the English Channel after taking off in Nantes, France.

Sala and his pilot last made contact from their Piper FA-46 Malibu just off Alderney at 8.30pm on Monday and the pair are missing presumed dead after wreckage was spotted in the sea. 

On Twitter last night Berenice tweeted: ‘Investigate the football mafia because I don’t believe this was an accident’ before deleting it. 

Lifeboats, helicopters and even locals in fishing boats have been scouring the sea for him – but have had to stop between dusk and dawn.

Posting photographs of them together, she wrote on Instagram: ‘Emi, my heart is broken. I still cannot understand it. I’m destroyed, I feel pain, fear and anger for not being able to do anything. I know you’re strong. We are waiting for you.

‘I want to wake up and all of this to be a lie. Please investigate because I cannot believe this is an accident. Don’t suspend the search for bad weather when you only just found objects floating.

‘They’re losing time and aren’t investigating. The thing I regret most is not having told you that you made me feel like I haven’t felt in a while and I love you. Why does this misfortune happen to such a fascinating man full of projects, hard working, a good person dedicated to his job’. 

‘The response from the football community has been truly touching and we place on record our sincere thanks to those who have sent messages of support.

‘We also thank everyone involved with the search and rescue operation, and continue to pray for Emiliano, David Ibbotson and their families.’

Dave Ibbotson holds a British private pilot’s licence that allows him to fly passengers between airports as long as he doesn’t profit from any journey.

But if he was paid a fee amounting to more than his fuel costs and expenses to take Sala between France and Britain would be classed a commercial flight.

It came as the missing Premier League star’s heartbroken sister Romina met with Cardiff City officials, including manager Neil Warnock, having flown in from Argentina overnight as hope fades for her brother.

This afternoon a pilot involved in the search for the missing plane said there is ‘no chance’ of finding survivors.

Mike Tidd, from Channel Islands Air Search, told ITV: ‘The area has been very well covered, there is absolutely no chance of finding anybody alive now, the only thing that we might be able to do would be to pinpoint where the aircraft went in, but I think the radar trace is going to be the best opportunity of doing that.’ 

Mr Ibbotson passed his pilot’s test in America in 2014. The Federal Aviation Authority register in the US says he holds a British private pilot’s licence not a commercial licence needed for scheduled or ‘paid for’ flights.  

An AAIB spokesman said today that as part of its investigation they will ‘establish the details of the booking and its operational arrangements’. 

As part of the probe the Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates pilots’ licences, will also be asked to confirm Mr Ibbotson had the instrument qualifications to fly ‘blind’ at night or in bad weather, and whether he was was properly insured.

The CAA today said it could not discuss the case or the missing pilot’s licence for data protection reasons. 

Mark McKay, who was acting on behalf of Sala’s club FC Nantes, chartered the flight and Sala’s French agent Meissa N’Diaye also helped with the arrangements. 

It is understood they used a company to organise the flight.

Mr Ibbotson, a gas engineer from Scunthorpe, was one of the roster of three or four pilots regularly used to fly footballers to France and may also have carried jockeys between race meetings.

Mr McKay said in a statement last night: ‘I can confirm that when Emiliano made myself and his agent Meissa N’Diaye aware that he wished to travel back to Nantes following his medical and signing on Friday, I began to look into arranging a private flight to take him to Nantes on Saturday morning.

‘That evening it was confirmed a plane was available to fly Emiliano on Saturday which could remain in Nantes until he was due to return to Cardiff on Monday and train on Tuesday.’ 

If investigators believe the doomed flight breached the Air Navigation Order act the Civil Aviation Authority has the power prosecute any individual involved in a booking.

Past cases have seen pilots or aviation companies who organised the flights in the dock – so is unlikely to lead to Mr McKay or Mr N’Dyiaye facing prosecution. Previous cases have led to large fines and prison sentences of up to a year.

Mr Ibbotson, understood to be a part-time pilot who has also worked as a gas engineer and wedding DJ, is said to have flown Sala to Wales when the footballer agreed to sign last Friday.

The 60-year-old, nicknamed ‘Dibbo’, has three children and lived with wife Nora near Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire. According to his Facebook account he checked into a hotel next to Nantes Airport on Saturday night and stayed until Monday.

He is said to be a highly-experienced pilot who specialises in private flights and parachute expeditions but it is unclear how many hours he has flown.    

The law does allow private licence pilots to fly strangers who agree to help cover the cost of the trip – but crucially the pilot must prove they were planning to fly to the destination already and cannot make any profit on top.

The loophole has led to the rise of Uber-inspired websites connecting passengers with pilots to reduce the price of private flights between the UK and Europe from around £10,000 to £1,000 or less.

The most popular website offering this service is Wingly, who confirmed to MailOnline today that Sala’s flight was not booked through them.

Cardiff City today reiterated that it offered to get Sala to the UK from Paris  – but the player told them he already had a flight booked.

Club CEO Ken Choo said: ‘We made offers for Emiliano to fly on commercial [flights] from Paris but the player said ‘don’t worry about that, I have alternative arrangements, I will see you at the [training] ground on Tuesday. 

‘He requested our club officials pick him up from the airport in Cardiff on Monday night after touchdown at 8.45pm. 

‘On hindsight, we should have pushed but we had communicated with the player and we had to respect the wishes of the player. I think that is very important, we did not want to make the player uncomfortable on any arrangements’.  

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    Romina Sala (pictured) begged the authorities not to give up looking for her missing brother who was ‘excited’ about his move

    Model Berenice Schkair, 27, made the extraordinary claim on social media after the new Cardiff City star’s plane went missing over the English Channel after taking off in Nantes, France


    The family of top football agent Willie McKay are believed to have chartered the plane taking Emiliano Sala to the UK when it vanished. His son Mark has also been involved in a number of high-profile transfers including Dimitri Payet’s £10.7million move to West Ham (together right)

    The missing plane carrying football star Emiliano Sala may have stalled in mid air and crashed into the sea due to a deadly build-up of ice on the wings, aviation experts have said.

    The Sun reported that one aviation expert said: ‘There are reports that the footballer was texting saying the aircraft is shaking and breaking up are classic signs of icing on the wings’.

    ‘The pilot is most likely wrestling with a stall at 2,300ft.

    ‘It is likely, though, that the aircraft hit the water in one piece otherwise debris would have quickly been found.’

    The single-prop plane had been flying at 5,000 feet before requesting a descent to 2,300ft from Jersey’s air traffic controllers. It reached that lower altitude before dropping off radar without any further radio contact.

    Former pilot Alastair Rosenschein also said the plane may have become iced-up in the Arctic blast currently sweeping across northern Europe including the UK and France.

    He said: ‘It’s already a fairly risky crossing to do in a single engine aircraft, especially in winter and definitely at night. There are icing problems too.

    ‘It’s a strange thing to do though to go and fly over water with one engine at night in winter because if your engine goes you’re going in the water’.

    It came after it emerged the pilot of the plane, which was chartered by the son of a former football mega-agent, said he was ‘a bit rusty’ with its landing system hours before the doomed flight.

    Mr Ibbotson, 60, admitted to a friend on Facebook he had approached the runway ‘on the high side’ – but joked, tragically: ‘Better than on the low side’.

    The American FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) records Ibbotson as having a British private pilot’s licence, issued in 2014, which entitled him to fly the single-engine aircraft. It is not a commercial licence, which would be required for scheduled flights.

    It came as aviation experts claimed that the Piper Malibu, the model of plane Sala was travelling in, had a ‘questionable’ safety record with 55 fatal crashes including 24 since 2000.

    His plane itself, registered as N264DB and built in 1984, is registered in the United States via a Norfolk company, Southern Aircraft Consultancy, which charges £450 per year to register their aircraft with the FAA.

    A member of staff at the firm today refused to identify the individual or company owning the aircraft.

    She told MailOnline: ‘They have asked us not to speak to the press. We don’t have any comment. We don’t have anything to do with the aircraft other than the fact that we registered it for them’. 

    Three years ago the Piper aircraft was delivered to the UK from Spain by David Henderson, a British pilot. 

    He told the BBC at the time: ‘One of the problems [of flying over water] is that ice can build up on the aircraft and if it gets too great then it would stop flying, and the only way to get rid of ice is to descend to warmer air.’  

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      This is the plane that Sala and the pilot were in when in vanished over the sea – it appears to be registered to a company in Norfolk


      The couple were together for some time – and may have become engaged – before they split last year, sources have said

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        The model posted a series of message on Instagram where she said she had not given up hope that her ex would be found

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          Who is Willie McKay? How football mega-agent has brokered some of the biggest transfers in history (and his twin sons are on the books at Cardiff) 


          Left, football agent Mark McKay and right, his son Mark – who also works as an agent – with his girlfriend Rachel Morse

          His twin sons Paul and Jack, both 22, are both Cardiff players, having previously played together at northern giant Leeds United

          Former football agent Willie McKay, who for years was based in Monaco, was one of the most successful agents in the game, brokering huge contracts over the years and pulling the strings to secure some of the biggest transfers in history.

          In his career he was involved in 485 deals, including acting for Queens Park Rangers during negotiations to sign Joey Barton on a free transfer.

          He has represented Joey Barton, Charles N’Zogbia, Ross McCormack, Pascal Chimbonda and Amdy Faye, among others. 

          His twin sons Paul and Jack have gone on to become footballers while his other son Mark followed his career path to become a football agent.  

          McKay, who was born in Scotland, was one of five men arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and false accounting in November 2007 as part of the City of London Police football corruption probe before he was cleared of any wrongdoing 18 months later. 

          In December 2008, he was given a suspended ban by the FA for breaching regulations by acting for two different clubs in two consecutive transfers of Portsmouth and Manchester City striker Benjani.

          His footballing twins Jack and Paul McKay, 22, have been on the books of Doncaster Rovers, Leeds United and Cardiff City.

          Mark McKay posted this photo of himself with friends and family on social media in 2015

          Mark McKay – who helped West Ham sign Dimitri Payet from Marseille in 2015 – often posts photos from his lavish holidays 


          Left, Willie McKay with wife Janis. His son Mark, right, was the director of the Glasgow-based company Excelfoot Ltd, which went into liquidation in 2017

          The brothers began their football education in France and had offers to go to other academies but settled at hometown club Doncaster when they were 16 years old. 

          Jack is a striker who has spent time out on loan with the Scottish League One outfit, while Paul plays at centre-back. 

          In 2016, Leeds United signed the twins, then aged 19, for undisclosed fees on two-and-a-half-year deals from Doncaster Rovers.

          In mid-January last year they joined Cardiff City after a short trial with the Bluebirds’ Under-23s. Earlier this month it was announced Paul McKay was joining Morecambe on loan.

          McKay’s other son Mark followed in his father’s footsteps and also works as a football agent, helping West Ham sign Dimitri Payet from Marseille in a £10.7million move in 2015.

          Mark was the director of the Glasgow-based company Excelfoot Ltd, which went into liquidation in 2017.  


          McKay’s son Mark (pictured left and right) followed in his father’s footsteps and also works as a football agent, helping West Ham sign Dimitri Payet from Marseille in a £10.7million move in 2015.

          McKay’s son Mark (pictured with his partner), who followed his father into a career as a football agent posts photos from around the world 

          Emiliano Sala (pictured on board a plane late last year) sent a WhatsApp recording to his loved-ones on board the small plane just before it vanished over the Channel 


          His father Horacio and his partner Liliana (left) cling to one another as they wait for news from the Channel – but it is expected to be bad news about Sala (right with his brother Dario, sister Romina and mother Mercedes)

          Horacio Sala, the tearful father of Argentine soccer player Emiliano Sala, outside his home in Progreso, Argentina

           

          The aircraft left Nantes at 19.15 on Monday headed for Cardiff and was flying at 5,000 feet before it fell off the radar at 2,300ft during a descent cleared with Jersey air traffic controllers

          Emiliano Sala: How Premier League clubs were desperate to get their hands on the Argentinian hotshot who was beating Lionel Messi in goal charts

          Emiliano Sala and Ken Choo CEO on January 18 in Cardiff as the striker got set to sign his three-and-a-half-year contact

          Sala was born in Santa Fe, the Argentine province where Lionel Messi was born, and began his football career for Proyecto Crecer in Córdoba.

          The club was directly affiliated with French side FC Girondins de Bordeaux so Sala moved to Europe to sign for the club at the age of 20 and made his debut for them in February 2012 in a cup tie against Lyon.

          The 6ft2ins forward then spent the whole 2012-13 season on loan at Championnat National outfit US Orléans, where he scored 19 goals in 37 domestic league appearances.

          The following season he spent on loan at Ligue 2 club Chamois Niortais where he scored a further 20 goals in 40 games in all competitions.

          After playing the first half of the 2014-15 season for Bordeaux, where his overall record was one goal in 12 appearances, Sala was then loaned to another Ligue 1 club SM Caen for the second half where he scored five goals in 13 appearances.

          But it was following a move to Nantes in the summer of 2015 for a reported one million euros where Sala really began to make a name for himself.

          He spent four successful seasons at the club where he notched up 48 goals in 130 games – including 12 league goals in 19 appearances this season – to earn himself a move to the Premier League, becoming Cardiff City’s record signing.

          His overall career record to date stands at 93 goals in 232 appearances. 

          Premier League side Cardiff had been keeping close tabs on Sala throughout the current campaign and this season’s record of 12 goals in 19 Ligue 1 games prompted the Bluebirds spend big money on the Argentine.

          In November, Sala was outscoring Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi in the goal charts but still remained uncapped by Argentina. 

          With 10 goals for the season Sala was his country’s most prolific striker ahead of fellow countrymen Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Mauro Icardi. 

          Manager Neil Warnock personally went to watch Sala in action on December 5 and saw the Premier League new boy score in the 30th minute. 

          Cardiff were not the only Premier League club tracking Sala as Leicester, Burnley, West Ham and Everton all expressed an interest in the highly coveted marksman.

          The Premier League strugglers signed Sala on a three-and-a-half-year contact on Saturday.

          Before agreeing to move to Wales, Sala had played his entire professional career in France.

          He started his career at Bordeaux where he progressed through the ranks after originally joining their youth team in 2010. 

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