LONDON: The pilot of the aircraft in which Argentinian footballer Emiliano Sala was killed was not licensed to fly it.

This is one of the conclusions of a report from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.

Sala, 28, and pilot David Ibbotson died in the crash in the English Channel in January last year, two days after the player had signed for Cardiff City from French club Nantes.

The report also revealed that Sala would have been “deeply unconscious” from carbon monoxide poisoning at the time.

Crispin Orr, the Chief Inspector of Air Accidents, said the investigation had been “long and complex” and the Civil Aviation Authority was still eexamining any possible breaches of the Air Navigation Order,

Cardiff City have challenged an order to start paying instalments of the transfee on the grounds that the registration of Sala with the Engliosh football authorities had not been concluded at the time.

A club statement described the report as an “important step” which raised a “number of new questions which we hope will be addressed”.

It added: “We are encouraged to read that the CAA is determined to tackle illegal activities by pursuing those involved. It is a practice which must be stopped and we hope the industry will be supported in order to prevent this tragedy ever happening again.”

Sala ws being flown from Nantes to Cardiff on January 21, 2019, when the single-engine Piper Malibu N264DB lost contact with air traffic control north of Guernsey.

The report said Mr Ibbotson had lost control of the plane while descending to avoid cloud and was probably also affected by carbon monoxide. The plane began to break up in mid-air as he tried to regain control.

His efforts to pull up from its final dive caused the tail fin and then the outer edges of both wings to shear off before it hit the sea near Guernsey at an estimated 270mph (434kph).

The AAIB report found Mr Ibbotson, 59, of Crowle in North Lincolnshire, was not qualified to fly at night and was inexperienced at using the plane’s instruments, rather than flying by sight.

Invalid licence

His rating for that type of aircraft had expired in November 2018, invalidating his licence to fly that plane.

“Significant evidence” was found that Mr Ibbotson had been expecting to be paid for the flight, despite not being licensed to carry passengers.

The investigation concluded that “neither the plane nor the pilot had the required licences or permissions to operate commercially”.

The plane’s autopilot had been diagnosed as having an intermittent fault and should have been labelled “inoperative”.

Sala was heading to his first training session with Cardiff City since signing for them in a £15m deal.

A voice message to close friends in Argentina, in which he says, “I’m in a plane that seems to be falling apart,” and ending, “I’m scared,” was sent while the plane was taxiing on the runway.

Sala’s body was found in the plane wreckage on the seabed in early February. A post-mortem examination found he died from head and trunk injuries.

Mr Ibbotson’s body has never been found.