Saturday 19 October 2019

Helicopter tragedy pilot had been ‘living the dream’ with girlfriend

Memorial: Floral tributes continue to spread outside the King Power Stadium. Photo: Getty Images
Memorial: Floral tributes continue to spread outside the King Power Stadium. Photo: Getty Images

Gareth Davies

The pilot who was killed in the helicopter crash outside Leicester City’s stadium was “living the dream” as he travelled the world with his soulmate, a friend has said.

Eric Swaffer died alongside partner Izabela Roza Lechowicz in the crash which also claimed the lives of Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and two of his staff members, Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare.

The couple were both professional pilots who lived together in Camberley, Surrey, having recently bought a house together, according to a long-time friend.

Speaking to Stephen Nolan on BBC Radio 5 Live, Lucie Morris-Marr described their romance as an “aviation love story”, adding: “Not many people get to work and travel with their soulmate, travelling the world going to glamorous places.”

Ms Lechowicz, who moved to the UK from Poland in 1997, was named by her country’s London embassy as one of 18 exceptional Polish women who inspired the community in the UK. Writing earlier this year about becoming a pilot as part of the project to celebrate women getting the vote in Poland in 1918, she said she was inspired by her partner.

Mr Swaffer – who used to fly the helicopter for live broadcasts of ‘The Big Breakfast’ and Virgin Radio’s travel helicopter – was at the controls of the aircraft when it crashed in a car park metres from the King Power Stadium on Saturday evening.

Ms Morris-Marr said Mr Swaffer was experienced in flying several types of aircraft and was even a JAA (Joint Aviation Authority) instructor and examiner for several aircraft and helicopter types. His work took him around the world, and allowed him to meet some of the world’s most famous and influential people such as the Dalai Lama.

Describing him as “extremely funny, charming and cheeky with a wicked sense of humour”, Ms Morris- Marr added: “Everyone loved him. I’m not surprised the chairman hired him. He was always great company.

“I would always ask him about his famous clients but he was so discreet, which is why they hired him of course.

“He was so generous and kind to his friends. When I lived in London he once flew us in a helicopter to a country hotel for afternoon tea.

“He loved his life. And he seemed to be living the dream flying with his girlfriend. Which is why their sudden passing in this tragedy is so terribly, terribly sad.”

Ms Morris-Marr said the couple had been together for about 10 years. She said: “In recent years they have been in high demand from private clients in particular and have been flying private jets and helicopters as a duo, enabling them to travel to some amazing locations such as Greece, Thailand and Vienna.

“Recently, I was pleased to see from his Facebook posts that he had put down roots and bought a home with Izabela in Camberley.”

In an interview with the Private Fly charter firm, Mr Swaffer talked about his rise in the business. He developed an interest in flying as a child, and his career started as a sponsored Bristow Helicopters cadet.

Asked about his most memorable flight, he said: “It has to be winching an injured person on board a helicopter from a ship 160km north of the Shetland Islands, in 15kmh winds and deep swell.”

The safety-conscious pilot always topped up his training, and when asked what he doesn’t leave the ground without, he told Private Fly: “If the flight involves an ocean crossing or when you are expected to be several hours from a diversion airfield, I like to check the aircraft has a medical kit and defibrillator as well as the mandatory first aid kit.”

Witnesses said he was a hero for guiding the spinning helicopter away from crowds on the ground. Ms Morris-Marr said Mr Swaffer would have done all he could to prevent lives being lost in the incident. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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