Emiliano Sala: Tributes, theories and unanswered questions one year on from tragic plane crash

Nantes team supporters in front of a poster of Emiliano Sala that says "Let's keep hope"
Nantes team supporters in front of a poster of Emiliano Sala that says "Let's keep hope" Copyright AP Photo/Thibault Camus, fileThibalt Camus
By Sandrine AmielAFP
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The circumstances of Argentine strikers Emiliano Sala's death remain murky a year after the tragic plane crash in the English Channel.


Tuesday marks exactly a year since 28-year old football player Emiliano Sala was killed when the private plane taking him to join Cardiff City crashed off the British island of Guernsey.

Both Nantes and Cardiff football clubs will pay tribute to the former striker.

But beyond grief, many unanswered questions remain about the circumstances of Sala's tragic death while a legal battle between both clubs rages on.

A year on, Euronews takes a look back at the tragedy that still haunts the football world.

Who was Emiliano Sala?

Sala, an Italian-Argentine, had arrived in France as a youngster to join Bordeaux, who loaned him out to Orleans, Niort and Caen.

He then moved to Nantes in 2015 where he was the club's top scorer for three straight seasons.

Sala was en route from Nantes to Cardiff in January 2019 after he signed a €17 million contract with Cardiff City — a record for the Welsh club.

But the plane carrying him from Nantes to Wales disappeared on January 21 near the island of Guernsey.

What are the planned tributes?

Nantes announced on Sunday that they will pay tribute to their former striker at the league match against his first French club, Bordeaux, on January 26.

In homage to the player who "dreamed of playing for the Albiceleste", Nantes will don a jersey inspired by the colours of the Argentine national shirt. Proceeds from sales will go to the two Argentine clubs where Sala played as a youngster.

A canvas featuring Sala will be laid in the centre circle as the players warm-up and giant screens will display images of his best moments in yellow.

Groups of fans will spread a giant banner in the stands and sing the song with which they celebrated each of Sala's goals, before a minute of applause.

According to British media reports, Cardiff City says fans can lay wreaths at the Fred Keenor statue at the club's stadium

Reached by Euronews, Daniel Machover, a lawyer for the footballer's family, said:

“The Sala family will mark the anniversary of the untimely death of Emiliano in private, quiet contemplation of their loss.“

What are the unresolved issues regarding Sala's death?

There are still a number of unresolved issues surrounding the player's death.

While Sala’s body was retrieved from the plane’s wreckage after the accident, authorities never found the body of 59-year-old pilot, David Ibbotson

READ MORE: Body recovered from plane carrying Emiliano Sala 'brought ashore'


There were also questions over the suitability of the plane, the qualifications of the pilot and the decision to hire both.

The flight was arranged by another pilot, David Henderson, at the request of football agents Willie McKay and his son Mark, who were representing Nantes.

Sala sent a WhatsApp message before the crash saying he was "really scared."

A source close to the case told Euronews that an initial inquest heard that Sala died of head and trunk injuries.

Another hearing is set to take place in March, but no date has been set yet for the full inquest.


"The family’s primary concern remains for the full inquest to take place as soon as possible so that they can finally learn the truth about what happened and ensure that no family has to suffer a similar preventable loss of a loved one," Machover said.

The murky circumstances of Sala's death have fuelled speculations and sensational claims.

British journalist Harry Harris is about to release a book claiming that Sala's death was "no accident." While the Daily Telegraph writer did not immediately respond to Euronews' request for comments, excerpts published in British media examine the theory that the pilot may have escaped the crash.

"How is it that if David Ibbotson had one outstanding skill, it was as a skydiver?", Harris is quoted as writing.

"And why was the pilot not in the plane when the privately funded salvage operation discovered (Sala’s) body?"


“Was the pilot able to eject before it plummeted to its fate? If the pilot survived, where is he? If he didn’t, where is his body?"

Such theories remain unsubstantiated to this day and Ibbotson is presumed dead by authorities.

READ MORE: Emiliano Sala: Footballer 'exposed to carbon monoxide' before fatal plane crash

Where does the legal dispute between Nantes and Cardiff stand?

Cardiff and Nantes quickly started arguing over the transfer money.

Cardiff insisted they had wanted Sala to take a commercial flight.


In February, Nantes publicly expressed concern about the delay in paying the first instalment and complained to FIFA, the governing body of world football.

Cardiff responded, saying there were "anomalies" in the contract and that FIFA should wait for the conclusion of investigations into the accident.

In June, British police briefly arrested Henderson.

In September, FIFA ordered Cardiff to pay the first instalment of €6 million due to Nantes.

But the Welsh club has taken the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, whose decision is not expected until June.


Meanwhile, British media reported that Cardiff was considering suing Henderson, the McKay clan and possibly Nantes.

Neither club immediately responded to a request for comment from Euronews.

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