Emiliano Sala suffered carbon monoxide poisoning before plane crash, family asks how gas entered cabin

An investigation by the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch has found that Sala had fatal levels of carboxyhemoglobin in his blood.

Emiliano Sala suffered carbon monoxide poisoning before plane crash, family asks how gas entered cabin

Argentinian footballer Emiliano Sala and the pilot of the crashed plane he was flying in, David Ibbotson, were exposed to harmful levels of carbon monoxide (CO) and poisoned by it, investigators have found.

The single-engine Piper Malibu aircraft piloted by Ibbotson chartered to transport Sala to Cardiff to complete an $18 million transfer from French club Nantes crashed into the English Channel on January 21. 

After a search spanning more than two weeks, Sala's body was found and taken to Dorset. Ibbotson's body has not been found.

Now, toxicology tests conducted on him showed that the levels of carboxyhemoglobin -- formed in the blood when someone is exposed to CO -- was 58%, above the 50% that is usually fatal, according to the Guardian

The UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said that CO usually results in impaired judgment, drowsiness, confusion, blurred vision, and loss of coordination, but could have caused seizures, unconsciousness, and heart attacks at the level found in the 28-year-old Argentinian striker.


The AAIB also theorized that Ibbotson, 59, whose body is still missing, might have been affected as well since the cockpit of the Piper Malibu aircraft he was flying was not separated from the cabin where Sala was seated.

In this image released Monday, Feb. 4, 2019, by the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) showing the rear left side of the fuselage including part of the aircraft registration N264DB, in the English Channel after it went missing carrying Argentine soccer player Emiliano Sala on Jan. 21 2019. The AAIB said Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019, that toxicology tests found that Sala and his pilot were exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide inside the small plane that crashed in the English Channel, killing them both. (AAIB File via AP)

An inquest conducted soon after heard that he had died of severe injuries to the head and upper body. 

In a statement addressing the most recent findings, Sala's family lawyer Daniel Machover said, "That dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide have been found in Emiliano's body raises many questions for the family. How he died will be determined at the inquest in due course"

"The family believe that a detailed technical examination of the plane is necessary," he continued. "The family and the public need to know how the carbon monoxide was able to enter the cabin. Future air safety rests on knowing as much as possible on this issue. Emiliano's family call on the AAIB to salvage the wreckage of the plane without further delay."


The Guardian reported that CO, which is colorless and odorless, is produced in high concentrations in piston-engine planes such as the Piper Malibu but is usually extracted by the exhaust system. However, leaks into the heating and ventilation system could bring it into the cabin.

The AAIB said it was working with the aircraft and engine manufacturers, as well as the National Transportation Safety Board in the US, to "identify possible pathways through which CO might enter the cabin of this type of aircraft."

"Work is also continuing to investigate pertinent operational, technical, organizational and human factors which might have contributed to the accident," they added.


Share this article: Emiliano Sala suffered carbon monoxide poisoning before plane crash, family asks how gas entered cabin