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Soccer Argentine soccer player Sala and pilot likely exposed to carbon monoxide before fatal crash: report

Supporters pay tribute in front of the portrait of Argentinian forward Emiliano Sala at the Beaujoire stadium in Nantes, on Feb. 10, 2019.

LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images

Argentine soccer player Emiliano Sala and his pilot were exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide before their small plane crashed in the English Channel, killing them both, British accident investigators said on Wednesday.

A single-engine Piper Malibu aircraft carrying Sala and pilot David Ibbotson crashed near the Channel Island of Guernsey on Jan. 21. Sala, who had played for French club Nantes, was travelling to join his new team, Cardiff City, in Wales.

The body of the 28-year-old footballer was recovered from the wreckage two weeks later. Ibbotson’s body has not been found.

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The Air Accident Investigations Branch said toxicology tests found “a high saturation level of COHb [the combination product of carbon monoxide and hemoglobin]” in Sala’s blood.

It said the level was 58 per cent, more than the 50 per cent “generally considered to be potentially fatal” in a healthy individual. Carbon monoxide above that level can cause seizures, loss of consciousness and heart attacks, investigators said in an interim report.

The report did not say what role, if any, carbon monoxide exposure played in the crash. However, they said it was likely the 59-year-old British pilot would have been affected “to some extent.”

“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,” the investigators said.

The agency said it was still investigating and “a final report will be published in due course.”

Daniel Machover, a lawyer for Sala’s family, said the finding “raises many questions.”

“The family and the public need to know how the carbon monoxide was able to enter the cabin,” he said. “Future air safety rests on knowing as much as possible on this issue.”

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Machover urged authorities to salvage the plane from the sea bed, 225-feet below the surface, “without further delay.”

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