Soccer star Sala exposed to harmful carbon monoxide in plane

AP

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In this image released Monday Feb. 4, 2019, by the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) showing the rear left side of the fuselage including part of the aircraft registration N264DB, in the English Channel after it went missing carrying Argentine soccer player Emiliano Sala on Jan. 21 2019. The AAIB said Wednesday Aug. 14, 2019, that toxicology tests found that Sala and his pilot were exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide inside the small plane that crashed in the English Channel, killing them both. (AAIB File via AP)

LONDON (AP) 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 Wednesday.

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

His body was recovered from the wreckage two weeks later. Ibbotson's body has not been found.

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%, above the 50% "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 pilot would have been affected "to some extent."

"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 carbon monoxide, the investigators said.

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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