Leicester City owner confirmed dead in helicopter crash - along with hero pilot and his co-pilot 'soulmate'
Leicester City's squad and the family of club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha have visited the King Power Stadium to pay tribute to the five who died in Saturday's helicopter crash.
Srivaddhanaprabha was killed with four other passengers, in a tragedy which has stunned the football world.
Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s aircraft plummeted to the ground and erupted in flames an hour after Leicester’s 1-1 draw with West Ham, and the 61-year-old was on board with two personal assistants and two crew members.
Leicestershire Police believe the others who died in the helicopter crash were Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, members of Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s staff, as well as pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz, although formal identification has not yet taken place.
Srivaddhanaprabha's wife Aimon and son Aiyawatt, Leicester City vice-chairman, visited the King Power Stadium on Monday afternoon to lay a wreath among a sea of tributes from fans across the footballing world, while the Leicester City squad did the same an hour later.
Investigations into what went wrong are ongoing. Authorities have confirmed that a digital flight data recorder has been recovered from the helicopter.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch says inspectors "will start working on the recorder, which was subject to intense heat as a result of the post-accident fire."
In a statement, the AAIB says inspectors are expected to remain on the site at Leicester's stadium until the end of the week when the wreckage is expected to be transported to specialist facilities for a detailed examination.
Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s helicopter was heading for Luton airport, before he was then scheduled to fly back to his native Thailand, but an apparent mechanical failure ended in a disaster which has left the Premier League club in mourning.
Witnesses have said the "engine stopped" in the air, before the Augusta Westland AW-169 plunged to the ground at around 8.45pm. It was claimed on Sunday night that the pilot averted an even larger crisis by directing the malfunctioning helicopter towards the south-east corner of the stadium and away from many supporters in the car parks leaving the game.
It took more than 20 minutes for the flames to be extinguished before emergency services were able to survey the wreckage. Sources at Leicester have said there were no other casualties on the ground when the helicopter crashed.
Leicester’s statement read: “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.
“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.”
Prince William, president of the Football Association, paid tribute to Srivaddhanaprabha.
He said: "My thoughts today are with the family and friends of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and all the victims of the terrible crash at Leicester City Football Club.
"I was lucky to have known Vichai for several years. He was a businessman of strong values who was dedicated to his family and who supported a number of important charitable causes. He made such a big contribution to football, not least through Leicester City's magical 2016 season that captured the imagination of the world.
"He will be missed by all fans of the sport and everyone lucky enough to have known him."
Prime Minster Theresa May tweeted: "My thoughts are with those family, friends and supporters connected to the tragic crash outside Leicester City’s stadium on Saturday night. The outpouring of grief is a testament to how many people’s lives were touched by those on board."
An 'aviation love story'
The pilot who was killed in the crash has been remembered as a "funny and vivacious" man who was travelling the world with his soulmate.
Mr Swaffer, who was at the controls of the aircraft when it crashed, died alongside his partner Ms Lechowicz.
Witnesses said he was a hero for guiding the spinning helicopter away from crowds on the ground.
Friend Lucie Morris-Marr described Mr Swaffer as a "veteran in the field" and said he would have done all he could to prevent lives being lost in the incident.
Speaking to Stephen Nolan on BBC Radio 5 Live, she said: "He was such a buoyant, vibrant, funny person, but when it came time to fly it was game time, he was deadly serious."
She added: "I'm so proud of him that it seems he did save other lives in that moment. He would have done absolutely everything for those on board and others. That was just his nature."
Mr Swaffer and Ms Lechowicz were both professional pilots and lived together in Camberley, Surrey.
Ms Morris-Marr described it as an "aviation love story", adding: "They were travelling the world, they were so happy. Not many people get to work and travel with their soulmate, travelling the world going to glamorous places.
"It's terribly, terribly sad. It will take a long time to get over."
Asked how she would remember Mr Swaffer, she said: "For his laugh. He was just so funny and vivacious, but absolutely so skilled about flying. He was an absolutely wonderful guy."
The Polish embassy described Ms Lechowicz as "a wonderful pilot".
A statement said: "It is with great sadness that we received news of the death of Izabela Lechowicz in the Leicester helicopter crash. She was a wonderful pilot and a #Polka100 campaign finalist who created a positive image of Poland in the UK. Our deepest condolences to her family."
Leicester’s vice-chairman, Aiyawatt ‘Top’ Srivaddhanaprabha, who is the owner Vichai’s son, was not present at the game and flew over from Thailand to meet with officials on Sunday.
Many of Leicester’s players were scheduled to train on Sunday morning but the session was cancelled and the Carabao Cup tie against Southampton on Tuesday will be postponed. Leicester also called off their Women's Championship and reserve matches which were due to take place on Sunday.
One eyewitness has suggested the tragedy could have been far worse.
One said: “If it had hit the stadium or even landed near the entrance who knows what would have happened.
RIP Boss. You were a great person who cared so much about our club, city and everything which came with it. Thank you for enabling us to make our dreams a reality and I hope you were as proud of your club as we were of you. We will miss you ������ pic.twitter.com/Chc2OfFaO2
— Andy King (@AndyKingy) October 28, 2018
“The pilot probably saved hundreds of lives. It’s still a tragedy, but it could have been much, much worse.”
It was alleged that Jon Rudkin, the club's director of football, was supposed to be joining the party on the helicopter before a late change of plans.
There were also inaccurate reports that Claude Puel, Leicester's manager, was on board but he had only just finished his media duties when the helicopter took off.
Puel said: “It's a tragedy for the club. I think very strongly about the victims and their families.
“I wanted to reassure everyone who cares about me, I'm terribly sad but I'm fine.”
Sven Goran Eriksson, the former England manager, was the first appointment by the Srivaddhanaprabha family and said: “What he has done for Leicester is incredible. He made the club from second division up to first division winning and made the club a big Premier League club today, fantastic.
“He was at every game during my time there and took part and were at training and talked to the manager and the players. When I came to the club he said he wanted to make it a big Premier League club, there were no secrets about that.”
Martin George, a former Leicester chairman, was at Saturday evening’s game and said: "I’d just left the ground and got in my car, there was an awful queue so I could tell something wasn’t right. I got a call from a friend to say what had happened.
"We’ve had administrations, we’ve had relegations, we’ve had all sorts of things, but nothing like this.
"Vichai has been terrific for this club. He is a very good gentleman, a sportsman. Not just with football, but polo, and horse racing. You couldn’t ask for anybody better to be in charge of this club.
"He enjoyed the company of people who had like minds, talked quite happily to them. But of course he had an iron will as well, to have his success you’d have to.”
"I came today to talk to the directors and express my feelings. I’ve been upstairs to speak to them and had a walk round. This is the last thing you’d expect.”
Leicester are not expected to return to action until this Saturday’s game at Cardiff but other club events are in doubt.
On Wednesday the first-team squad and former players are due to appear for the Christmas video. There was also a scheduled Q & A on Thursday with Jonny Evans, Ricardo Pereira, Danny Ward and Hamza Choudhury, plus former defenders Steve Walsh and Gerry Taggart.
'He gave us those dreams'
Overnight, flowers had been laid at the north wall of the stadium along with a large image of the god Ganesh and a candle.
By mid morning there was a steady flow of Leicester fans laying bouquets as scarfs at the stadium.
Roger Clarke, 58, went down to the King Power Stadium to lay flowers at the growing display of tributes.
A season-ticket holder, he had been at the West Ham game and seen the helicopter land on the pitch, but left before the crash.
Mr Clarke, who lives in nearby Wigston and came with his friend and fellow season ticket-holder Keith Vose, 67, said: “We just brought some flowers down this morning as there’s nothing more you can do really. I just wrote [on the flower] ‘thinking of everybody involved’.
“It’s not just through football his (Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s) links with the city, they are through his charity work. That’s what football does, it brings people together.
“But that’s what he gave us (winning the Premier League) he gave us those dreams, that you can’t take away. You can’t take away what he’s done.”
'He is not just a chairman, he’s a massive friend of the staff. They are like family'
Two fans Andrew Wilson, 54, and Mahesh Daji, 56, were seen tearfully hugging after laying tributes at the stadium.
Mr Wilson, whose partner Debbie Collins, who works for Leicester FC, said he would have normally parked in the car park where the helicopter came down.
However he said is it was his partner’s birthday they opted for a car park further away to get into the city faster after the West Ham match.
“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, it’s either fate or an act of bravery.
“Straight away staff were all ringing each other as they were concerned. The staff are just devastated, the fans are just devastated. Two years ago when Leicester won the league, he payed for all staff for couches, food vouchers, drink vouchers for staff to go to the last game of the season (at Chelsea), which was just fabulous. This guy is not just a chairman, he’s a massive friend of the staff. They are like family. It’s devastating, the staff are just absolutely devastated."
Mr Daji, who still has the piece of cake Mr Srivaddhanaprabha gave out to fans for his 60th birthday in his freezer as a momentous, added: “What happened on 2016, I had tears in my eyes it was like a dream. There are no words that can describe what he was, because I think he was not only the best chairman in this country but throughout the world.
“We are just hoping a miracle can happen like in 2016 and that they are okay, but we are just dreading the worst. It’s just devastation, the whole of Leicester it going to feel this. I’m in tears now.”
Crash revives memories of Chelsea tragedy
With fears mounting over the fate of the Leicester City owner, the helicopter crash may bring back chilling memories for Chelsea football fans.
Last week - October 22 - marked 22 years since vice-chairman Matthew Harding died when his helicopter crashed as he travelled back from a League Cup tie at Bolton. Friends and fellow supporters Ray Deane, Tony Burridge, John Bauldie and Mick Goss were also killed.
Mr Harding was a Chelsea fan from childhood and was such a passionate supporter of the club that his arrival on the board in 1994 saw him make millions of pounds available to the building of a new stand and for player recruitment.
A Chelsea FC statement, marking the anniversary of Mr Harding's death, said: "His enthusiasm for the team was clear to all and Harding provided financial assistance for player recruitment.
"Tragically, he was denied the opportunity of witnessing the investment coming to fruition just a few months after the accident, when the team won our first major silverware for a generation, the 1997 FA Cup."
The thoughts of everyone at Chelsea Football Club are with @LCFC and all those affected by this evening's terrible accident.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) October 27, 2018
BBC: Chairman was on the helicopter
The BBC is reporting that Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was in the helicopter when it crashed on Saturday evening.
The broadcaster was citing a "source close to the family", but the news has not yet been confirmed.
Leicester police have given a brief update, saying the Air Accidents Investigation Branch is leading the investigation into the cause of the crash.
The AAIB is leading an investigation after a helicopter crashed at the King Power Stadium.
It came down in a car park near the stadium shortly after 8.30pm yesterday evening (Saturday 27 October). The force is liaising with Leicester City Football Club as enquiries continue.
— LeicestershirePolice (@leicspolice) October 28, 2018
Owner's company gives no comment on crash
In Bangkok, officials at Thailand's King Power said on Sunday they could make no comment about the crash.
Two King Power officials contacted by Reuters said they could neither confirm nor deny whether owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was on board the helicopter.
"We cannot say anything and no statement can be given yet," one of the King Power officials said.
Lineker calls events 'heartbreaking'
The BBC presenter and former Leicester City player has tweeted that it was the most difficult Match of the Day programme has hosted.
That was the most difficult @BBCMOTD I’ve ever hosted. Thoughts are with everyone at Leicester City. A terrible tragedy. Heartbreaking.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) October 27, 2018
Gabby Logan's thoughts
Can’t stop thinking of Leicester FC. We filmed at the KP 10 days ago for PL Show and every conversation about their success and stability led back to the owners; the investment, commitment, love, spiritual presence with the silks and the giant elephant. ❤️
— Gabby Logan (@GabbyLogan) October 27, 2018
More pictures from outside the King Power are coming through
And this is a picture of the helicopter landing at the stadium this evening, shortly before it took off on its journey tonight.
'Everyone from West Ham has safely left the stadium'
West Ham CEO Karren Brady has said those connected with her club left the ground safely this evening.
My thoughts and prayers are with everyone at Leicester City, horrific pictures on the news, I pray everyone is ok. I can confirm everyone from WHU has safely left the stadium.
— Lady Karren Brady (@karren_brady) October 27, 2018
East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust statement
“We received a call at 8.38pm on 27 October to reports of a helicopter crash in the car park of King Power Stadium in Leicester.
“We have sent a doctor in a car, two paramedics in ambulance cars, a crewed ambulance and our Hazardous Area Response Team, with the first resource arriving within two minutes of the call.
“We are currently working with our colleagues in Leicestershire Police and Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service at the scene.
“We advise members of the public to stay away from the area while we deal with this incident.”
Lineker on Match of the Day
Gary Lineker opens up Match of the Day wishing Glenn Hoddle a speedy recovery and then reacts to the traumatic event that has unfolded at his former club this evening.
He says: "Clearly this is a breaking story and we will do our best to keep you up to date with the news..." They then start with highlights of their draw with West Ham.
Leo Bruka, 27, who lives near the stadium, told The Telegraph he was driving home from work when he saw the helicopter falling.
"I saw the helicopter coming down, it was spinning very quickly.
"In front of me was a police car. Before it fell the police car went straight away towards where it was falling and I followed them.
"We were less than five seconds away. When we went there there was a man who I think was working inside the property of King Power stadium who opened the back gate.
"The helicopter didn't fall in the [fans'] car park. It fell inside the territory of the stadium. The car park is very close. It might be a car park for the staff because it's in the stadium.
"One of the policeman ran straight away to the helicopter and another got out a fire extinguisher. The first policeman was tying to break the glass of the helicopter, the window, then in this moment I saw a women in tears crying out loud because I think the helicopter just missed her, she was about 20 metres away.
"The fire just started and then there was an explosion.The policemen tried to calm down the fire. The police response was very quick. This all happened in less than one minute, then I could hear all the police coming around the stadium. They hadn't left yet after the match.
"A policeman asked me to stop filming because someone was in the helicopter."
Update from Leicester City FC
A Leicester City spokesman said: “We are assisting Leicestershire Police and the Emergency Services in dealing with a major incident at King Power Stadium. The Club will issue a more detailed statement once further information has been established.”
Latest pictures from outside the stadium
It is reported that it took around 20 minutes for the flames to be extinguished and now the Emergency services are dealing with the wreckage.
There are a number of Leicester fans who left the ground after this evening's match who have since returned to keep across events and offer their support any way they can on this dark, dark day in the club's history.
Passengers on board still unknown
While Leicestershire Police and East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust have said they are dealing with an incident at the King Power Stadium, there has yet been no further news on who was on board the helicopter.
The Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha leaves the stadium by his helicopter, which lands in the centre circle on the pitch, after every Leicester home game.
The Thai businessman, who owns the King Power company, bought the club in 2010 and became chairman the following February.
Under his ownership, Leicester won the Premier League title in the 2015-16 season.
'A day I can't wait to end'
BT Sport anchorman Jake Humphrey, who had earlier tweeted of Glenn Hoddle's collapse at their London studio and that the former England midfielder was 'seriously ill', was presenting from the King Power Stadium this evening for Leicester's clash with West Ham. He witnessed the owner's helicopter take off inside the ground but says the BT Sport crew have now been evacuated.
The latest is we have all been evacuated from the stadium and the emergency services are here in huge numbers dealing with the scene. Thoughts and love to all involved. A day I can’t wait to end. https://t.co/OOI6AymhVv
— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) October 27, 2018
Leicester players pray for those on board
Harry Maguire and Ndidi Wilfred, both of whom played in the 1-1 draw with West Ham this evening, have tweeted messages of support and are praying for those who were on board.
— Ndidi Wilfred (@Ndidi25) October 27, 2018
The thoughts of all of us at Tigers are with our friends and neighbours at @LCFC following the incident after tonight’s match at King Power Stadium.
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) October 27, 2018
A few more pictures
Pictures at the scene
Eye witnesses have been sharing images at the scene of the accident.
Leicester City owner's helicopter has crashed into the car park outside the ground & burst into a ball of flames. Awful scenes. pic.twitter.com/M7INaCWf4K
— Dave Palmer (@DaveyPalmer1) October 27, 2018
'Helicopter crash' outside Leicester City stadium pic.twitter.com/57G68HhX40
— Andy Beechey (@AndyBeech43) October 27, 2018
Gary Lineker reacts
Leicester legend and Match of the Day host Gary Lineker has tweeted his reaction to the horrific incident.
Hearing that the Leicester City owners’ helicopter has crashed in the club’s car park.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) October 27, 2018
Video at the scene
Theres a major incident by the King Power Stadium. Emergency services attending. pic.twitter.com/GtAbo6AHpD
— Mr Geoff Peters (@mrgeoffpeters) October 27, 2018
Helicopter crashes at King Power Stadium
The helicopter of Leicester City's owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has crashed outside the King Power Stadium following the club's Premier League clash with West Ham this evening.
BT Sport televising the match and filmed the helicopter leaving the ground just moments before the incident occurred. TV presenter Jake Humprey tweeted a short time ago: The Leicester City helicopter just crashed in the club car park...no other news.
Police and ambulance have rushed to the scene. It is not yet known who was on board the helicopter.
More to follow...