The pilot flying footballer Emiliano Sala is likely to have been quickly overcome by toxic levels of carbon monoxide just minutes before his plane crashed into the English Channel, killing the pair, an inquest heard.
David Ibbotson, 59, was hired to take the 28-year-old striker home to France after he signed for Premier League club Cardiff City in a £15 million transfer from Ligue One side Nantes.
He flew the Argentine from Wales to Nantes on January 19 2019, with the return flight scheduled for two days later.
Sala’s body was recovered from the wreckage of the single engine plane but Mr Ibbotson’s remains have never been found.
Tests on samples of Sala’s blood showed a carbon monoxide blood saturation level of 58%, which a pathologist described as “severe poisoning”.
Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) experts believe the most likely cause for the level of carbon monoxide inside the cabin was the plane’s faulty exhaust system.
Principal investigator Geraint Herbert said the level of carbon monoxide inside Mr Ibbotson and how it affected him is unknown.
“We know the pilot was talking on the radio four minutes before the crash but we also know that, in between one and three minutes, death can occur from carbon monoxide,” he told the inquest.
“We believe what happened in the flight happened quite late in the flight and happened quite quickly and it happened shortly after the last radio contact.”
Mr Herbert continued: “We think this accident happened because there was a rapid release of carbon monoxide into the cabin and the pilot, as a result, lost control of the aircraft, which led to the break-up.
“We feel he probably wasn’t completely unconscious for the whole of that. There was significant carbon monoxide to make him lose control but not so much that it made him unconscious.
“We know at the end he pulled back, which led to the break-up.”
The inquest, at Bournemouth Town Hall, has been told the most likely source of the carbon monoxide was from a damaged heater muff in the exhaust system.
Mr Ibbotson held a private pilot’s licence which did not permit him to fly passengers commercially or at night, the court heard.
He had been asked to pilot the plane by businessman David Henderson, 67, who managed the aircraft on behalf of its owner.
The flight had been arranged by football agent Willie McKay, a long-time client of Mr Henderson who was involved in Sala’s move to Cardiff.
The inquest continues.