Footballer Sala and pilot likely exposed to carbon monoxide before fatal crash

Footballer Sala and pilot likely exposed to carbon monoxide before fatal crash

FC Nantes supporters gather in front of a portrait of late Argentinian forward Emiliano Sala prior
FC Nantes supporters gather in front of a portrait of late Argentinian forward Emiliano Sala prior to the French L1 match against Nimes Olympique at the La Beaujoire stadium in Nantes on Febr 10, 2019. (Photo: AFP/LOIC VENANCE)

LONDON: Argentine football player Emiliano Sala's blood showed high levels of carbon monoxide, air accident investigators said on Wednesday (Aug 14), and it was likely the pilot of the plane flying him to Britain had also been exposed before their fatal crash.

Sala, 28, was flying from his previous club Nantes in western France to Wales to join Cardiff City when the Piper Malibu aircraft disappeared over the English Channel in January.

His body was recovered when the wreckage of the plane was finally discovered about two weeks later.

FILE PHOTO: Nantes' Emiliano Sala in action
Nantes' Emiliano Sala in action in a picture taken March 18, 2017. (Photo: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe)

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A special bulletin from Britain's Air Accident Investigation Branch said toxicology tests on his blood had shown that Sala had a saturation level of 58 per cent of carboxyhaemoglobin (COHb), a mixture of carbon monoxide (CO) and haemoglobin.

Exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to damage to the brain, heart and nervous system and a COHb level of over 50 per cent is considered to be potentially fatal, causing seizure, unconsciousness or a heart attack.

Sala graphic
Map and details of disappearance of light aircraft carrying footballer Emiliano Sala. (AFP/Sophie RAMIS and Juliette VILROBE and Jonathan WALTER)

"In this type of aircraft, the cockpit is not separated from the cabin and it is considered likely that the pilot would also have been affected to some extent by exposure to CO," the report said.

"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."

READ: Body found in wreckage of Cardiff City footballer Sala's plane: Investigators

FAMILY, LAWYER CALL FOR PLANE TO BE RECOVERED

Sala's family said a detailed examination of the plane wreckage was needed to determine how the gas was able to leak into the cabin.

"That dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide have been found in Emiliano’s body raises many questions for the family. How he died will be determined at the inquest in due course," they said in a statement.

"Future air safety rests on knowing as much as possible on this issue."

The AAIB said its investigations were continuing and that a final report would be published in due course.

Yellow flowers are displayed in front of a portrait of Argentinian forward Emiliano Sala at the
Yellow flowers are displayed in front of a portrait of Argentinian forward Emiliano Sala at the Beaujoire stadium in Nantes, France -- Sala was traveling from Nantes to his new club Cardiff City when he died AFP/LOIC VENANCE

Sala's lawyer also called for the plane to be recovered from the seabed. 

"That dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide were found in Emiliano's body raises many questions for the family.," said Daniel Machover. 

"How he died is going to be determined at the inquest but the family consider that it is now necessary for a detailed technical examination of the aeroplane to take place. The family and the public for air safety reasons need to know how the carbon monoxide entered the cabin."

He added: "Future air safety rests on knowing as much as possible about this issue, so Emiliano's family call on the Air Accident Investigation Branch of the Ministry of Transport to salvage the wreckage of the plane as soon as possible without further delay."

Source: Reuters/nh/rw

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