Emiliano Sala plane wreckage: Expert claims pilot ‘spatial disorientation’ most likely cause of crash

Lawrence Ostlere
The Independent

The pilot of Emiliano Sala’s flight which came down in the English Channel could have been suffering from ‘spatial disorientation’, according to an aviation expert.

The Piper Malibu N264DB carrying the 28-year-old Sala and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, went missing on 21 January after leaving Nantes in France for Cardiff, the home of the Argentinian striker’s new football club Cardiff City.

The wreckage was discovered on Sunday, around 67m deep, between Guernsey and the Devon coast.

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Juan Arturo del Azar, a private jet pilot who has regularly flown across the Channel during his career, told Argentinian daily newspaper Clarin that a possible explanation for the crash was the kind of problem which caused John F Kennedy Jr’s death in 1999.

Cardiff City players pay tribute to Sala in their win over Bournemouth (Getty)
Cardiff City players pay tribute to Sala in their win over Bournemouth (Getty)

“As in any investigation we can only speculate on what has been published until there’s official information... But the information we have now is that this pilot was not authorised to fly with instruments. If that is the case, it could be a lot simpler. It could simply be a case of being in a cloud, not knowing how to fly with instruments and suffering what is called spatial disorientation.

“Your body sends you erroneous signals at that point. Your body tells you the plane is rising and the plane is falling and vice-versa. At that point the only thing that is valid are the instruments. It’s something that’s very routine but it’s something for which a pilot must have a licence and training.”

It is unclear whether Ibbotson was qualified to use instruments, but his credentials will form part of the investigation. He had written in a Facebook comment hours before the flight that he was “a bit rusty with the ILS (Instrument Landing System)”.

An underwater image shows one side of the wreckage (PA)
An underwater image shows one side of the wreckage (PA)

On Tuesday the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) said there is no timeframe for the wreckage to be raised, and refused to give any guarantees that that the aircraft would be brought up from the seabed.

A spokesman for the AAIB said: “We are currently working underwater when conditions allow the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to go down. We can’t give an indication at the moment of when it will be raised and we haven’t given an indication at the moment that we are going to raise it.

“At the moment we are still conducting research – all I can say is that an announcement will be made when we are able to.”

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