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Ex-pilot of Sala’s plane: “I can’t believe it was a mechanical fault”
A FORMER pilot of the aircraft which crashed in the Channel killing Cardiff FC player Emiliano Sala says he does not believe the tragedy was caused by a mechanical fault.
Eduardo Hernández Vidaurreta, 65, from the province of Burgos (Castilla y León) was captain of the Piper PA-46 Malibu registration number N264DB between 2012 and 2015, which he described as ‘a marvel’ to fly.
“I’d be very surprised to hear that the accident was caused by a mechanical fault,” says Hernández Vidaurreta.
A commercial pilot in Spain since 1976 and with a US flying licence from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since 1989, Eduardo says the Piper Malibu was built in 1984 and was ‘used a lot’ at the flying school in Florida which it belonged to before it was brought to Spain seven years ago by one of Hernández’s friends, Roberto Sastre, who had bought it on the spur of the moment for around €500,000.
Hernández became Sastre’s ‘air chauffeur’, but only for recreational purposes, not as a job – mostly for weekends away nationally.
The plane clocked up fewer than 50 flying hours a year in the four years Sastre owned it and Hernández flew it, and ‘never gave him any problems’, said the latter.
Yet Argentinian footballer Sala radioed his family from the plane, saying it felt as though the aircraft was ‘about to fall down in pieces’.
“If you’ve heard nothing from me in an hour and a half, I don’t know whether you’ll send someone to look for me because you’re not going to find me, but now you know…dad, I’m really scared.”
“The aircraft did not fall down in pieces, I’m certain of that,” insists Hernández, who says it had had a new engine in 2012 before it was brought to Spain.
“It wasn’t the original 1984 engine, because the FAA wouldn’t have allowed it.”
During its time in Spain, it underwent a check in Germany on the helix.
It was equipped with life-jackets and emergency oxygen tanks when Sastre sold it to the UK firm Southern Aircraft Consultancy Inc Trustees in August 2015 because he ‘needed the money’.
“Southern Aircraft sent a mechanic to Spain to inspect it before buying it and they didn’t find any problems – the plane was in a very good condition,” he continues.
Hernández knew David Henderson, the British pilot who was going to replace him in the cockpit.
But Henderson, for reasons that have not been clarified, did not board the Piper Malibu on January 21 to take Sala (second picture) to Cardiff from Nantes, France – instead, it was flown by David Ibbotson, 59, also British, and who has never been found since the crash.
Ibbotson reportedly did not have a commercial flying licence, according to the FAA website, and Mark McKay, the agent who chartered the flight, assured that the trip was a private one.
The Piper Malibu set off from Nantes at 20.15, and halfway across the Channel at 21.23, it disappeared from the radar.
Minutes earlier, Ibbotson had requested authorisation to reduce its altitude from 1,500 to 700 metres.
Both Hernández and Sastre have offered to help British authorities in their inquiry as to how the aircraft crashed.
Sala, 28, had just flown to Cardiff to sign the deal with his new team, for which he had not yet played, then he returned to Nantes to bid farewell to his team-mates before making the move.
He was on his way to Cardiff to start his new life when his plane went down.
A body found in the wreckage 67 metres under water was confirmed on Thursday (February 7) to be the Argentinian, but Ibbotson remains missing.
Nantes has reportedly requested Cardiff fulfil its agreed three-stage payment for Sala, since the sale had officially gone through, even though he had not yet started playing for his new team.
Cardiff says it would make the payments once inquiries are complete and the circumstances have been clarified, according to the BBC.
Photograph 1: Eduardo Hernández Vidaurreta and his family next to the Piper Malibu which crashed last month killing Emiliano Sala. Picture supplied by Hernández, the Spaniard who flew the plane between 2012 and 2015
Photograph 2: Emiliano Sala playing for Nantes (Twitter)
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