Leicester City soccer club owner, four others killed in helicopter crash

By Reuters   October 29, 2018 | 07:57 am GMT+7
Leicester City soccer club owner, four others killed in helicopter crash
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, owner of football club Leicester City attends a meeting with the media in Bangkok, Thailand, May 18, 2016. Photo by Reuters/Jorge Silva

Leicester City soccer club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, a Thai tycoon, was killed along with four others when his helicopter crashed Saturday.

The aircraft exploded after a Premier League match, the soccer club and police said.

Vichai bought the unheralded central England side in 2010 and went on to stun the soccer world by beating odds of 5,000/1 to win the Premier League title in 2016 in what amounted to a sporting fairy tale.

The father of four and founder of duty-free King Power International was a huge favourite with the club's fans.

"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," a club statement said on Sunday.

The aircraft came down in a car park near the King Power stadium shortly after 19:30 GMT, about an hour after the end of Leicester City's game against West Ham United, police said.

The other victims were believed to be two members of his staff, Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz, Leicestershire Police said.

No one on the ground was believed to have been injured, they said.

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.

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

"Within a second, it dropped like a stone to the floor. ... Luckily it did spiral for a little while and everybody sort of ran, sort of scattered."

Title win

After pumping millions of pounds into the club, Vichai helped steer Leicester back into the top flight in 2014 before they stunned the sport by beating the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea to become champions of England.

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

"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 told Reuters.

"The future is looking bright or at least it was looking bright."

According to Forbes magazine, Vichai was the fifth-richest person in Thailand with an estimated net worth of $4.9 billion.

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. It continued to prosper even after Thaksin's ousting in a coup that year.

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

The investigation into the cause of the crash was being led by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), and was likely to take several days, the police said.

The maker of the helicopter, Italian aerospace company Leonardo SpA, said it was ready to help the investigation.

It said it was the first AW169 aircraft to be involved in an accident.

The EFL (English Football League) said Leicester City's round-four Carabao Cup tie with Southampton, scheduled for Tuesday, had been postponed because of the incident. The tie was due to have been held at the King Power Stadium.

It said that as a mark of respect to those who died, players would wear black armbands at all EFL fixtures over the next seven days. Leicester City football club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was on board a helicopter that crashed outside the club’s stadium, the BBC reported Sunday.

The helicopter crashed in a ball of flames in the club’s car park on Saturday after a Premier League match.

Officials from the club and Vichai’s company, duty-free giant King Power International, declined to comment on whether he was in the helicopter when it spiralled out of control and crashed around an hour after the game.

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

A spokesman for the Midlands club said on Saturday: “We are assisting Leicestershire Police and the emergency services in dealing with a major incident at King Power Stadium.”

John Butcher, who was near the stadium at the time of the crash, told the BBC 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...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.”

In Thailand, officials at King Power said they could not yet comment on the crash or say whether Vichai had been aboard.

Vichai is a huge favourite with the fans after he bought the unfancied side from central England in 2010 and they went on to stun the soccer world by winning the league title in 2016.

According to Forbes magazine he is the fifth richest person in Thailand with an estimated net worth of $4.9 billion.

Leicestershire Police said a team from the Department for Transport’s Air Accidents Investigations Branch had taken charge of the investigation into the cause of the crash.

English champions

After pumping millions of pounds into the club, he helped steer them back into the top flight in 2014 before they stunned the sport by beating the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea to become champions of England.

Leading players in the side, including Jamie Vardy and Harry Maguire, sent messages of support on Twitter while rival clubs including Manchester City also voiced their concern.

Freelance photographer Ryan Brown was covering the game and saw the helicopter clear the stadium before it crashed, the BBC reported.

“Literally the engine stopped and I turned around, and it made a bit of a whirring noise,” Brown told BBC Radio 5 Live. “It turned silent, blades started spinning and then there was a big bang.”

Leicester had played a league match at home against West Ham United earlier on Saturday, drawing 1-1.
Billionaire soccer club owner in helicopter crash

The self-made businessman Vichai founded Thai duty-free giant King Power in 1989.

The duty-free business got a big boost in 2006 when it was granted an airport monopoly under the government of then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and it continued to prosper even after Thaksin’s ouster in a coup that year.

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

 
 
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