Emiliano Sala died from severe head and chest injuries when the aircraft he was travelling in crashed, a jury has concluded.
The Argentine footballer was “deeply unconscious” after being poisoned by exhaust fumes before dying, a court heard on Thursday.
Sala was killed when a single-engine Piper Malibu aircraft went down in the English Channel off the coast of Guernsey in January 2019.
He was travelling from Nantes to join his new team Cardiff City in Wales.
At an inquest at Bournemouth Town Hall, the jury found that Sala was a passenger on a private plane being flown by a pilot David Ibbotson who did not have the proper authority to fly at night.
The plane broke up when it crashed into the sea during difficult weather conditions. Ibbotson’s body has never been found.
According to pathologist Dr Basil Purdue, Sala had been overcome by "severe poisoning" because of a buildup of carbon monoxide inside the cabin due to the plane's faulty exhaust system.
The 28-year-old footballer would have been "deeply unconscious" but was still alive at the point of impact, Purdue said.
The flight had been managed by pilot and businessman David Henderson, who arranged flights, pilots and maintenance, despite not being the legally registered operator.
In November, Henderson was sentenced to 18 months in prison for endangering the safety of an aircraft.
He had previously admitted to a separate offence of attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or authorisation.