London (AFP)

Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala has been exposed to a "potentially lethal" level of carbon monoxide, and his pilot was probably intoxicated as well, before their plane crashed in the English Channel in January, British investigators said Wednesday.

"Toxicological tests revealed that the passenger had a high saturation level of COHb (a product that combines carbon monoxide and hemoglobin)," the British Air Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) said in an interim report. .

According to the tests, Sala had a carboxyhemoglobin saturation (COHb) level of 58%. "A COHb level of 50% or more in an otherwise healthy person is usually considered potentially fatal," he said, likely to cause convulsions, loss of consciousness or a heart attack.

"It is likely that the pilot was also exposed to carbon monoxide," he added. "It is clear from the symptoms that CO exposure can reduce or inhibit a pilot's ability to fly an airplane based on the level of exposure," says the AAIB.

Sala and his pilot, David Ibbotson, crashed at sea on 21 January as the FC Nantes striker rejoined the Cardiff club where he had been transferred. The body of the 28-year-old footballer was found in the body of the aircraft, more than two weeks after the accident, 67 meters deep. The pilot's body was not found.

According to the AAIB, carbon monoxide poisoning poses a particular risk to the type of aircraft in which the two men traveled.

"Piston-engine aircraft produce high concentrations of carbon monoxide that are sent out of the aircraft by the exhaust system," the investigators said. "Improper cabin sealing or leaks in exhaust gas heating and ventilation systems can allow carbon monoxide to enter the cabin" and into the cockpit.

Emiliano Sala's family "thinks that a detailed technical examination of the plane is necessary" and she asks the AAIB to retrieve the wreck "without delay", responded his lawyer, Daniel Machover, in a statement.

"The family and the public need to know how carbon monoxide got into the cabin," he added.

The Cardiff club told him he was "concerned" by the AAIB report, "which shows once again that the plane used for Emiliano Sala was not appropriate".

"We continue to believe that those who contributed to its use must be held accountable in this tragedy," said a spokesman.

© 2019 AFP