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Did pilot flying Emiliano Sala suffer from ‘spatial disorientation’?

As Sala’s family calls for plane wreckage to be brought up from under water, expert pilot says the plane crash may have been caused by the pilot suffering from ‘spatial disorientation’ — same phenomenon that caused Kennedy Jr plane crash in 1999.

SNS | New Delhi | Updated :

The family of Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala, who was involved in a plane crash, has called for the wreckage of the plane to be brought up from under water so they can find out why it crashed.

The private Piper Malibu N264DB plane carrying Sala, 28, and its British pilot David Ibbotson, 59, was discovered off the coast of Alderney in the English Channel.

Sala was on the way from Nantes in France to his new football club Cardiff City when the plane vanished on January 21. The plane was discovered by a diving team on Sunday evening.

Sala’s father Horacio Sala, a lorry driver, insisted that leaving the aircraft where it was could not be an option.

In a significant development, meanwhile, a top expert has claimed Ibbotson could have experienced the same “spatial disorientation” blamed for the 1999, John F. Kennedy Jr plane crash off the Massachusetts coast, reported.

The official investigation had concluded that Kennedy fell victim to spatial disorientation of the pilot while descending over water at night and consequently lost control of the plane. According to reports, that pilot did not hold an instrument rating and was only certified to fly under visual flight rules.

According to the report, Ibbotson, 59, held only a private pilot’s licence which did not allow him to fly passengers on payment, and he reportedly told a friend before the crash that he was a “bit rusty” with the instruments.


Juan Arturo del Azar, a private jet pilot who has operated on the same route at least 400 times, told Argentinian daily Clarin: “As in any investigation we can only speculate on what has been published until there’s official information.

“But everything so far indicates there was an operation that should never have existed and a pilot who was not qualified to fly in the conditions there were that night.

“What we know is that the pilot ‘requested descent’ on passing Guersey.

“I’ve flown that same route at least 400 times. It’s a crossing over water.”

He added: “The reason for requesting a descent, according to the aviation community, was because the plane was accumulating ice. 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.

“There’s a well-known incident, that of John Kennedy Jr, in which that happened. When a person is in a cloud and looks out of the window, they are disorientated. Then they have to know how to fly the plane looking just at the instruments.

“If the information is correct and this pilot wasn’t qualified to fly with instruments, yes, there could have been ice. But it is much more likely that there has been a problem of spatial disorientation.”

In his interview to the daily, Del Azar said he knew David Henderson, the experienced pilot who Scots football agent Willie McKay expected to take the flight before he reportedly “subbed” it to Ibbotson. “At night-time everything is much more complicated. Ninety-five per cent of accidents are human errors, errors by the pilot or maintenance errors. It’s not the planes’ fault. At times there are faults but they are a tiny minority, three to four per cent. 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,” he said.

Sala’s body was spotted almost two weeks after the plane went missing. On Monday, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) confirmed that a body was visible in the wreck, which is about 67m deep.

Marine scientist David Mearns had volunteered to help the Sala family for free. He said on Tuesday that Sala’s family had called for the wreckage to be recovered.

“I’ve been in touch with Emiliano’s family and they desperately want the aircraft recovered,” Mearns was quoted as saying by Sun.

“They want the wreckage brought up as quickly as possible — in fact they are demanding it,” he said, before adding, “The family have obtained comfort from the plane being found but it has confirmed their worst fears.”

“(The AAIB) will be able to rule things out or rule things in, that’s the normal investigative process for any crash, so I think it’s imperative that the plane is recovered, and now even more so now we know someone is down there,” Mearns added.

Speaking about Argentina striker, Sala’s father Horacio told local news: “The hope is over.”

“There are no more words to say. I hope both bodies are on there,” Horacio added. “The news has brought some relief but we still don’t know what exactly happened.”