Leicester City’s owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, died in the helicopter crash outside the club’s stadium on Saturday night, it was confirmed on Sunday night by the club.
He was one of five people killed – all on board the helicopter – when the accident occurred around an hour after Leicester’s draw at home to West Ham United. The Thai owner’s helicopter crashed near a car park by the south-east corner of the stadium shortly after taking off from the pitch at around 8.20pm.
“It is with the deepest regret and a collective broken heart that we confirm our chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, was among those to have tragically lost their lives on Saturday evening when a helicopter carrying him and four other people crashed outside King Power Stadium. None of the five people on-board survived,” read a club statement.
“The primary thoughts of everyone at the club are with the Srivaddhanaprabha family and the families of all those on-board at this time of unspeakable loss. In Khun Vichai the world has lost a great man. 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. Leicester City was a family under his leadership. It is as a family that we will grieve his passing and maintain the pursuit of a vision for the club that is now his legacy.”
While formal identification of the other four passengers has not yet taken place, Leicestershire police have named them as Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, two members of Vichai’s staff, and pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) is leading the investigation into the accident and a cordon remains in place at the scene while inquiries continue.
“This is an incredibly tragic incident in which five people are understood to have lost their lives,” Superintendent Steve Potter said. “Emergency services were immediately on scene when the crash happened, working to put out the fire and gain access to the helicopter in attempts to reach those inside. Despite those efforts, there were no survivors.”
Vichai, one of Thailand’s richest men, bought Leicester City in 2010 and six years later celebrated one of English football’s greatest achievements when the club won the Premier League.
“A book of condolence, which will be shared with the Srivaddhanaprabha family, will be opened at King Power Stadium from 8am on Tuesday 30 October for supporters wishing to pay their respects,” continued the club statement. “Supporters unable to visit King Power Stadium that wish to leave a message can do so through an online book of condolence, which will be made available via lcfc.com in due course.”
The club confirmed that both Tuesday’s fixture against Southampton in the EFL Cup and the development squad fixture against Feyenoord in the Premier League International Cup have been postponed. The club added: “Everyone at the club has been truly touched by the remarkable response of the football family, whose thoughtful messages of support and solidarity have been deeply appreciated at this difficult time.”
The 60-year-old, a hugely popular figure at Leicester, normally leaves in his Augusta AW169 helicopter after home matches. On Saturday he was due to travel in it to Luton Airport and then take his private jet to Thailand.
Eyewitness reports indicated that on Saturday the helicopter only just cleared the roof of the stands, stayed in the air briefly and spiralled down to earth after reportedly developing a fault with its tail rotor.
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A huge fireball erupted and the air smelt of burning fuel in the hours after the crash. Emergency services rushed to the scene to tackle the fire and search the wreckage, with the area eventually cordoned off by Leicestershire police.
The helicopter crashed on land owned by the club, landing near car park E, which is used by Leicester’s staff. The site was empty at the time.
Members of the public travelled to the stadium to leave tributes on Sunday. Players in Premier League matches on Sunday wore black armbands as a mark of respect. Minute’s silences were held at Manchester United and Burnley and a minute’s applause, in tribute, took place at Crystal Palace. Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, Leicester’s vice-chairman and Vichai’s son, flew to the United Kingdom from Thailand on Sunday. Leicestershire police pleaded for patience from the public as crash investigators took control of the site.