Emiliano Sala: Late Cardiff City striker exposed to ‘potentially fatal’ levels of carbon monoxide before plane crash

Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson suffered carbon monoxide poisoning before their deaths in a tragic plane crash in January, it has been revealed.

In a new report on the accident, Air Accident Investigation Branch have published their findings that the footballer was exposed to ‘potentially lethal’ levels of carbon monoxide (CO).

Emiliano Sala died in a plane crash earlier this year
Getty – Contributor

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Sala had just signed for Cardiff City from Nantes in a £15million deal, and was flying to begin his career for his new club, when the Piper Malibu PA-46 aircraft flown by Ibbotson was lost over the English channel.

After an official search was axed after three days, a private search was funded and found the plane on February 3, with Sala’s body identified three days later. The body of pilot Ibbotson is still missing.

Emiliano Sala: Born in Argentina, forged in France, and tragically taken on his way to Wales

The AAIB on Wednesday revealed the toxicology results of Sala’s body, which showed he had a saturation level of 58 per cent of CO in his blood.

Exposure to the colourless and odourless gas between 20 and 30 per cent can cause drowsiness and headaches.

Meanwhile, more than 50 per cent can cause seizures, unconsciousness and heart attack.

The plane was discovered 67 metres below water almost two weeks after it was lost from radar near Guernsey
Air Accidents Investigation Branch

It is unclear whether the pair passed out and died on the plane from their exposure to the deadly gas – or whether they died from their injuries in the crash, but the report did say that it would more than likely have led to the accident as that level of exposure would ‘reduce or inhibit a pilot’s ability’ to fly.

The AAIB report says: “Toxicology tests on the blood of the passenger showed a carboxyhaemoglobin (COHb) saturation level of 58%.”

It adds: “a COHb level of 50% or above in an otherwise healthy individual is generally considered to be potentially fatal.”

The report also says Ibbotson is also likely to have been affected, since “in this type of aircraft, the cockpit is not separated from the cabin”.

It says the effect would be “decreasing the carriage of oxygen and causing a direct effect on the performance of those parts of the body which rely on oxygen for proper function.


“It is clear from the symptoms that exposure to CO can reduce or inhibit a pilot’s ability to fly an aircraft depending on the level of that exposure.”

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