Football agent denies knowingly arranging ‘grey’ flight for Emiliano Sala


Football agent Willie McKay has denied knowingly arranging illegal ‘grey’ flights to transport footballer Emiliano Sala and other wealthy people.

The Argentinian striker died alongside David Ibbotson, 59, when their Piper Malibu plane crashed in the English Channel near Alderney on January 21, 2019.

The 28-year-old had flown to Wales from France to join Premier League club Cardiff City in a £15million move from Ligue 1 side Nantes.

Tributes paid to Emiliano Sala outside Cardiff City following his death (Ben Birchall/PA)

Mr McKay was barred at the time from acting as an agent in the full transfer because he was an undischarged bankrupt but worked for his son Mark McKay’s business.

An inquest into the player’s death at Bournemouth Coroner’s Court had previously heard that Mark McKay acted on Nantes’ behalf in the deal.

His father arranged for Mr Sala to return to Nantes after a medical in Cardiff on January 18.

Testifying on Thursday, Willie McKay said he called David Henderson, a pilot he had used on several occasions, who then contacted Mr Ibbotson as he was unavailable.

Cathryn McGahey QC, representing Cardiff City FC, said: ‘We have heard the term ‘grey flights’ meaning flights by private planes which are not licensed to carry paying passengers who carry paying passengers – because it is what Mr. Henderson was suggesting.

“He did not have a business license to carry fare-paying passengers.”

Willie McKay replied, “I never knew anything about his business, all I knew was that we would phone him and ask him to take us somewhere.”

The officer read a statement from Mr. Henderson alleging that he told Mr. McKay the flights were private and that he did not have a license to act as an air taxi or operate charter flights.

Mr McKay said he had never heard of this and claimed he could not recall whether he had paid Mr Henderson in cash despite flying 20 times with him over the past 14 years.

In an angry outburst, Mr McKay said: ‘It’s a character attack. I don’t want to hear about it anymore, I came here to tell what really happened.

He denied ever meeting Mr Ibbotson, despite allegedly texting him telling him to come to his house and collect £270 in cash.

Ms McGahey said: ‘These are unofficial gray flights and you knew they were.’

“I never knew anything about David Henderson’s business,” Mr. McKay replied.

Mr McKay had to be interrupted several times by coroner Rachael Griffin when he became angry at the questions being asked.

At one point, she was forced to remind him that contempt of court is an offense punishable by imprisonment.

Matthew Reeve, for Mr Sala’s family, questioned why Mr McKay had not offered his family’s own plane, a King Air 200, to transport the player.

Mr McKay said it was because the plane was having its propellers serviced, but Mr Reeve suggested the company maintaining the plane refused to release it until the McKay family had paid his bill.

The agent replied, “It’s to discredit me. I came here in good faith. It doesn’t matter if I owe anyone money.

Earlier, Mr McKay had said he only wanted to help Mr Sala get home and claimed Cardiff City had ‘abandoned’ him.

Asked if there was anything he wanted to say at the inquest, he said: “Myself, Jack and Mark tried to help Emi get home – in terms advertising, what we’ve been through is hell.”

The inquest heard Mr Sala was overcome with toxic levels of carbon monoxide poisoning before dying from serious head and chest injuries consistent with a plane crash.

The jury was told on Wednesday that Mr Ibbotson had been banned from flying the Piper Malibu by its owner after receiving two airspace infraction notices from the CAA. He had continued to fly the plane without her knowledge.

The investigation should last about a month.

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