Emiliano Sala’s doomed flight from Nantes to Cardiff was delayed by up to 10 hours forcing the plane to take off at night, MailOnline can reveal.
Pilot David Ibbotson had expected to fly the single-engine Piper Malibu plane on the morning of Monday 21 January, crossing the English Channel in day-light hours.
But the morning departure from Nantes-Atlantique Airport was cancelled and the flight took off at 7.15pm on Monday evening.
Officials have so far not explained why the flight was delayed.
In a further twist, the original flight plan named a different pilot for journey, who pulled out at the 11th hour, according to respected newspaper Ouest France.
Emiliano Sala’s doomed flight from Nantes to Cardiff was delayed by up to 10 hours forcing the plane to take off at night, MailOnline can reveal
Pilot David Ibbotson (pictured) had expected to fly the single-engine Piper Malibu plane on the morning of Monday 21 January, crossing the English Channel in day-light hours – but the flight was cancelled and eventually took off from Nantes at 7.15pm that evening, 10 hours later
In a further twist, the original flight plan named David Henderson (pictured with the doomed plane) but he pulled out at the 11th hour, according to respected newspaper Ouest France
Sala was pictured on Sunday afternoon saying goodbye to his Nantes teammates in a photo poignantly captioned ‘The Last Goodbye’
David Henderson’s name was on a flight plan submitted to Nantes airport on Monday – the day of the journey – before it was cancelled and replaced with a second plan with David Ibbotson named as the pilot, officials have revealed.
Mr Ibbotson is believed to have flown the US-registered Piper PA-46 Malibu light aircraft to Nantes from Cardiff on Saturday.
He stayed in the £68-a-night Hotel Kyriad on Saturday and Sunday night.
The 60-year-old from Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, had booked a taxi to take him from his hotel to the airport at 7.30am on Monday 21 January so that he could take controls of the Piper Malibu plane.
But the light aircraft pilot cancelled the early morning taxi and checked back into his hotel room where he stayed for the day. He then left the hotel for Nantes Bouaye Aeroport at about 6pm for the evening flight.
‘Mr Ibbotson asked me to book him a taxi to take him to the airport at 7.30 on Monday morning,’ a receptionist at the hotel told MailOnline.
‘He told me the flight from Nantes to Cardiff was scheduled to leave on Monday morning.
Sala, 28, (pictured on board a plane late last year) had just sealed a £15 million move to Cardiff City when his plane went missing over the English Channel near Guernsey on Monday night
Sala’s family from Argentina including his mother (pictured) have begged the authorities to continue the search for the missing footballer who left Nantes to play for Cardiff City
The Piper PA-46 Malibu left Nantes airport at around 7.15pm on Monday and was on route to Cardiff, where Sala was joining up with his new teammates. But after an hour, the pilot asked air traffic control to reduce altitude from 5,000ft to 2,300ft before it disappeared
‘But on Monday morning he cancelled the taxi and booked back into the hotel. He spent the rest of the day in his room and left at about 6.00pm.
‘Mr Ibbotson arrived at the hotel on Saturday. He stayed for two nights – Saturday and Sunday. He was meant to check out on Monday. But he kept the room for Monday night although he did not sleep here on Monday. He stayed in the room and left in the evening.’
The hotel is less than three miles from Nantes Atlantique Airport and is popular with budget travelers. The adjoining Les Champs d’Avaux restaurant is a favourite with locals as well as guests.
She added: ‘He had dinner in the restaurant on Saturday night. But he was alone. He had a main course and some wine. I did not see him with any visitors when he was here.’
The plane is thought to have crashed into the English Channel due to ice either becoming clogged in the propeller or affecting the wings.
The Piper PA-46 Malibu left Nantes airport at around 7.15pm on Monday and was on route to Cardiff, where Sala was joining up with his new teammates.
But after an hour, the pilot asked air traffic control to reduce altitude from 5,000ft to 2,300ft. It is thought he may have been trying to get to warmer air after the propeller or wings became covered in ice. But a short time later, the Guernsey coastguard was alerted that the aircraft had disappeared from radar screens.
His father Horacio and partner (left) cling to one another as they await updates – but the news is expected to be bad for his family (including brother Dario, sister Romina and mother right)
The plane carrying Sala from Nantes to Cardiff vanished over Alderney on Monday night and is feared to have plunged into one of the Channel’s most perilous areas, known as Hurd’s Deep
Aviation experts have questioned why the single propeller light aircraft was flown in freezing conditions over the English Channel at night where a crash into freezing water in the dark would have made survival difficult.
They have also queried why Mr Ibbotson, a part-time pilot and gas engineer, who was not licensed to carry paying passengers, was drafted in at the last minute to fly the plane.
Mr Ibbotson, a part-time pilot and gas engineer, who was not licensed to carry paying passengers, was drafted in at the last minute to fly the plane
It is claimed the he aborted three take-offs and had joked with friends on Facebook that he was a ‘bit rusty’ in the days before.
Sources close to the investigation said officials in Nantes, north-west France, had been expecting Mr Henderson, an experienced pilot who had flown the plane many times to take the controls of the aircraft.
They insist that they received a flight plan – which can be submitted by email – with Mr Henderson’s name on it.
Then a second flight plan was submitted naming Mr Ibbotson as the pilot.
Another source also claimed that Mr Henderson’s passport was scanned at the airport on Monday, despite the experienced pilot categorically denying any involvement with Sala’s flight.
Mr Henderson, 60, from York, told MailOnline he had not been in France, adding: ‘I have not been to Nantes for one year.’
Football agent Willie McKay’s (left) son Mark (right) is believed to have chartered the plane taking Sala to the UK when it vanished. Mark has also been involved in a number of high-profile transfers including Dimitri Payet’s £10.7m move to West Ham (together right)
Floral tributes to Sala have been laid outside Cardiff City’s stadium by fans who have never seen the striker play after his plane went missing just days after signing for the club
Asked why his passport was scanned by security at Nantes Airport on Monday 21 January – the same time as Sala and replacement pilot Mr Ibbotson passed through security – Mr Henderson told Ouest France: ‘I cannot explain their [French airport security’s] mistake.’
Mr Henderson was initially reported in France as being a victim of the crash.
But he posted a message on Facebook on Tuesday night reading: ‘Contrary to press reports, I am not dead!!!’ He then deleted the account and has since declined interviews.
He appeared on a BBC documentary four years ago taking about his high-risk job as a ferry pilot in the programme that featured the doomed plane N264DB, which was a six-seater light aircraft manufactured in 1984.
The aircraft was registered to a trustee the Southern Aircraft Consultancy in Bungay, Suffolk.
Mr Henderson had worked for Mark McKay, son of former mega agent Willie McKay, who chartered the flight to take Sala from Nantes to Cardiff ready for his first training session with his new teammates on Tuesday morning.