Saturday 23 March 2019

Leicester tycoon's helicopter 'dropped like a stone to ground'

Thai owner among five killed as aircraft falls out of the sky and explodes seconds after take-off

Aftermath: The burnt wreck of the helicopter in the car park yesterday. Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Yates
Aftermath: The burnt wreck of the helicopter in the car park yesterday. Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Yates

Claire Bloomfield in Leicester

Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was among five people on board a helicopter that crashed and then exploded at his football stadium after it took off from the pitch.

The others who died were Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, both members of Mr Srivaddhanaprabha's staff, as well as pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz.

Vichai, a father of four and founder of duty-free giant King Power International, was a huge favourite with the club's fans after he bought the unfancied side in 2010 and financed them as they went on to stun the soccer world by beating odds of 5,000/1 to win the Premier League in 2016.

The helicopter spiralled out of control and crashed shortly after taking off around an hour after the game against West Ham. It came down yards from the King Power Stadium's grandstands in a club car park.

According to witnesses, the helicopter had barely cleared the top of the stadium before it started to spin. It then plummeted to the ground and burst into flames.

It is understood it took more than 20 minutes for the flames to be extinguished before emergency services were able to survey the wreckage.

Memorial: A woman is in tears as she leaves flowers outside the stadium. Photo: REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Memorial: A woman is in tears as she leaves flowers outside the stadium. Photo: REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

John Butcher, who was near the stadium at the time of the crash, said his nephew saw the helicopter spiral out of control, apparently due to a faulty rear propeller.

"Within a second it dropped like a stone to the floor," he said. "Luckily, it did spiral for a little while and everybody sort of ran, sort of scattered. As far as we are aware, nobody around the car park was caught up in this problem."

Sky Sports News cameraman Dan Cox said: "I don't know how the pilot did it but he seemed to manage to slow down the spinning rotation and it drifted off into the corner part of the car park."

Andrew Wilson (54), a season ticketholder whose partner works for Leicester City, said: "It had crashed between the two staff car parks. I don't know if the pilot needs some recognition for that. He's brought it down and it's either fate or an act of bravery."

Photographer Ryan Brown was covering the game and saw the helicopter clear the stadium before it crashed.

"Literally the engine stopped and I turned around, and it made a bit of a whirring noise," Mr Brown said. "It turned silent, blades started spinning and then there was a big bang."

"The world has lost a great man," Leicester FC said in a statement. "A man of kindness, of generosity and a man whose life was defined by the love he devoted to his family and those he so successfully led."

The helicopter, built in Italy, is said to have a good safety record.

Hundreds of fans laid flowers, football shirts and scarves outside the stadium in tribute to Vichai yesterday.

"He's put so much money into the club. He has brought the club up from receivership, put the money in, built the team, won the Premiership," 68-year-old fan Richard Mobbs said. "The future is looking bright or at least it was."

According to Forbes magazine, Vichai was the fifth-richest person in Thailand with an estimated fortune of €4.3bn.

The self-made businessman's duty-free company, founded in 1989, was granted an airport monopoly in 2006 under the government of prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. .

The family's empire also includes Belgian football club, Oud-Heverlee Leuven.

Leicester's vice-chairman, Aiy-awatt Srivaddhanaprabha, who is Vichai's son, was not present at Saturday's game and is now flying over from Thailand.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Why Irish fans shouldn't lose faith and how Joe Schmidt can turn things around for the World Cup

In association with Aldi

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport