The validity of missing North Lincolnshire pilot David Ibbotson’s licence was among the issues analysed in a report published by the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB).
As previously reported, a new search for Ibbotson involving deep divers and a helicopter could begin soon as the investigation continues into the flight of Piper Malibu N264DB which vanished near the Channel Islands on January 21.
Ibbotson flew the plane to take footballer Emiliano Sala from his old team Nantes in France to his new club Cardiff City. A body was found by underwater search teams investigating the wreckage of the plane on February 3 after funds had been raised for a private search.
The body was later formally identified as Sala. Ibbotson remains missing.
The AAIB’s investigation is considering the regulations applicable to the operation of this flight. This includes airworthiness requirements, flight crew licensing and the carriage of passengers.
These regulations allow aircraft to be flown by private pilots holding the appropriate licence. However, it was not allowed to be used for commercial operations without the owner or operator first obtaining permission from the FAA and the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
The CAA advised the AAIB that they had no record of an application for permission to operate the aircraft commercially.
Ibbotson held an EASA PPL licence and an FAA PPL was issued on the basis of this. It is thought that the pilot’s licence and logbook were lost with the aircraft so the ratings on his licenses and their validity have not yet been determined.
The basis on which the passenger was being carried on this flight has also not yet been established.
Ibbotson used what is described as a flight planning and navigation software application installed on his portable tablet computer to map the route and file the Visual Flight Rules flight plan.
This information had been uploaded to the pilot’s cloud account but the tablet computer not found within the wreckage.
The aircraft was registered in the USA and could not be used for commercial operations without permission from the FAA and CAA. At the time of writing there was no evidence that such permission had been sought or granted.
Investigation findings so far
Neither Sala or Ibbotson was found during the initial surface search. The wreckage of the aircraft was also not located by the time the official search ended at 3.15pm on January 24 so it was therefore classed as an aircraft accident.
AAIB began an investigation assisted by the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la Sécurité de l’Aviation Civile (BEA) in France.
Ibbotson flew the aircraft and passenger from Cardiff Airport to Nantes Airport on January 19 with a return flight scheduled for January 21. He arrived at the airport at 12.46pm on January 21 to refuel and prepare the aircraft.
At 7.58pm the controller asked the pilot to check if the aircraft’s altimeter pressure setting was correctly set to 1013 hPa which he acknowledged.
At 8.02pm when the aircraft was about 11nm west of Jersey and 13nm south of Guernsey the pilot requested clearance to descend to “maintain visual meteorological conditions”.
The controller then inquired if the aircraft required a further descent and the pilot responded “negative, just avoided a patch there, but back on heading five thousand feet”.
At 8.12pm the aircraft was around 11nm north of Guernsey. The pilot requested a further descent to maintain VMC. The aircraft was cleared to descend at the pilot’s discretion . He was given further details which he acknowledged but this was the last radio communication received from the aircraft.
Extensive damage to aircraft
ROV video examinations showed the aircraft was extensively damaged. The main body of the aircraft was in three parts held together by electrical and flying control cables.
The engine had disconnected from the cockpit area. The rear section of the fuselage had broken away from the forward section adjacent to the trailing edge of the wing.
The outboard section of both wings, tail plane and fin were missing.
After the accident two seat cushions, an arm rest and possible skin from the fuselage washed up along the coast of the Cotentin Peninsula in France. A seat cushion also washed up in Bonne Nuit Bay on the north coast of Jersey.
Recorded radar information was available from separate ground-based sites in Guernsey, Jersey and France. The radar data provided an almost complete record of the accident flight.
The pilot used a flight planning and navigation software application installed on his portable tablet computer. This was used to create a route between Nantes and Cardiff and file the VFR flight plan.
This information had been uploaded to the pilot’s cloud account, but the tablet computer was not found within the wreckage.
What will happen next
The AAIB will refine the analysis of the radar information to try and understand the last few minutes of the flight.
It will also assess the possible implications of the weather conditions in the area at the time of the accident.
Video from the ROV will be analysed to determine the aircraft altitude as it entered the water.
The AAIB will also consider the regulatory requirements surrounding the flight including airworthiness requirements, aircraft permissions and flight crew licencing.
A final report will then be published in due course.
David Ibbotson’s daughter Danielle set up a GoFundMe page to try and fund a new private search. At the time of writing it has raised £249,457.
A search is expected to begin in the near future but the family are waiting on confirmation of exact dates when things will happen.
I have been assisting the family of pilot David Ibbotson to hopefully locate his body. This search is technically very different to the underwater search for the Piper Malibu aircraft. It is dependent on good weather, neap tides and flight permits. The family needs space to plan.
— David Mearns (@davidlmearns) February 19, 2019
The 'search' will include a dive to the wreck to rule out 100% that David's body is there and a helicopter search of inaccessible coastal areas in the Channel Islands using trained pilots and observers. All contingent on good weather, permits, etc.
— David Mearns (@davidlmearns) February 19, 2019