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Pilot enlisted a stand-in for football ace’s tragic flight

Drafted in and missing: Dave Ibbotson

A HIGHLY experienced pilot drafted in a replacement to fly footballer Emiliano Sala from France to Cardiff, it has emerged.

David Henderson, 60, had been picked by football agent Willie McKay to take Sala, 28, across the Channel on January 21. But for unknown reasons, Mr Henderson called in gas engineer David ‘Ibbo’ Ibbotson, 59, for the doomed flight in a single-engine plane.

Originally due in cockpit: David Henderson

Mr Henderson is said to have asked Mr Ibbotson if he wanted a weekend in Nantes. French officials thought Mr Henderson had been on the plane as he paid for the flight and hotel after Mr Ibbotson lost his credit card.

Cardiff City had offered their record £15million signing a commercial flight. Mr McKay, who arranged a private plane ‘for free’, told France’s l’Equipe sports newspaper if he had not allowed Sala (pictured) to return to FC Nantes to say goodbye ‘he would still be with us’.

After three aborted take-offs in stormy weather, an hour into the flight, Mr Ibbotson told air traffic control he was reducing altitude.

Argentinian Sala had messaged friends to say the plane ‘looks like it’s going to fall apart’. On Tuesday, two cushions believed to be from the plane washed up on a French beach.