A part-time pilot and gas engineer was drafted in at the 11th hour to fly the plane carrying £15m (€17m) footballer Emiliano Sala, the 'Daily Telegraph' understands.
Sources said officials in Nantes, north-west France, had been expecting an experienced pilot who regularly flew footballing figures around Europe.
Instead, Dave Ibbotson, a gas engineer whose main flying activity was taking parachutists for jumps, was at the controls.
It is claimed the 59-year-old aborted three attempted take-offs and had joked with friends on Facebook that he was a "bit rusty" in the days before.
The four-day English Channel search for Cardiff City signing Sala was called off despite the player's sister flying into Britain from Argentina to beg authorities to 'please, please' continue.