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Cardiff sues Nantes for nearly $120M over death of Emiliano Sala

The tragic death of Emiliano Sala in January 2019 continues to affect his former club, Nantes, and the club he never got to play for, Cardiff City.

Cardiff is suing Nantes for €110 million (nearly $120 million) over the death of Sala, who perished in a plane crash on his way to Cardiff, where he'd just signed for $19 million (a club record). Club president Mehmet Dalman confirmed the news Tuesday.

"We bought a young man in the prime of his career, in good faith," Dalman told Talksport via the BBC. "Somebody, without our knowledge, put him in an unfit aeroplane and flew him in a dangerous time of the day, or night in this case. Unfortunately, the two people died because of it. Why is it that it's Cardiff that has to then write the cheque out for as much as that? Cardiff is not a wealthy club, it can't afford this.

"So I don't see why people say we're just after money. We just want to get some justice."

Cardiff initially refused to pay Sala's transfer fee, which caused FIFA to put them under transfer embargo. They eventually paid the first installment of the fee in January 2023, believed to be around $9 million, which ended the embargo. At the end of the 2022-23 season, Cardiff stated that they wanted to recoup the money they paid for Sala as well as "additional damages for further consequential losses."

Sala, who was 28 when he died, had signed the transfer in Cardiff and flown back to Nantes to say goodbye to his teammates. David Ibbotson, the pilot, was assigned to return him to England in a Piper Malibu N264DB. When the plane was at 5,000 feet, Ibbotson radioed to air traffic control in Jersey to request permission to descend, but the craft disappeared from radar at 2,300 feet and never reappeared.

Flowers and tributes are placed near a giant picture of Argentine soccer player Emiliano Sala outside the FC Nantes training camp, in Nantes, western France, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, after a plane with Sala on board went missing over the English Channel on Monday night. Sobbing after the active search for her brother was halted, the sister of Argentine soccer player Emiliano Sala urged authorities Thursday not to give up trying to find the remains of his plane that disappeared from radar over the English Channel. (AP Photo)
Cardiff City is suing Nantes over the death of Emiliano Sala, who died on a plane from Nantes, his former club, to Cardiff, the club he never got to play for. (AP Photo)

A search for the craft started immediately, but it took weeks for Sala's body to be recovered. (Ibbotson's body was never found.) An inquest revealed that Sala had been unconscious when he died, poisoned from fumes from the plane's faulty exhaust system.

The post-crash investigation revealed issues like the faulty exhaust system, but additional details were uncovered in a voicemail from Ibbotson that was played on a BBC podcast about Sala's death in September 2022. Ibbotson told a friend in that he had been asked to pick up Sala, but the aircraft was "dodgy," which he'd determined after hearing an enormous bang while piloting an earlier flight. An engineer was not asked to investigate.

Beyond the "dodgy" plane, Ibbotson was an amateur pilot who was not allowed to carry passengers or fly at night, two things he was doing when flying Sala back to England. Ibbotson had also been banned from flying that particular aircraft by the owner after racking up two airspace infringements. The man who managed the aircraft, pilot David Henderson, reportedly didn't keep records for any flights or the pilots who flew them.