Fans pay tribute to Leicester City owner feared dead in helicopter crash
Thai billionaire believed to have been one of five passengers in crash at club’s stadium
Leicester City’s owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and his son Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha: the Thai billionaire is believed to have been one of the passengers who died in Saturday night’s helicopter crash at the King Power Stadium. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
Investigators are working to discover more details about Saturday night’s helicopter crash outside Leicester City’s football stadium, with sources saying that the club’s owner was one of five passengers on board.
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who bought Leicester for £39 million in 2010, is thought to have boarded the helicopter after watching his team’s 1-1 draw with West Ham United in the Premier League. The Thai billionaire’s helicopter took off from the pitch at around 8.30pm and erupted in flames after crashing in an empty car park near the south-east corner of the King Power Stadium.
It is understood there were no survivors. The authorities spent Sunday trying to find out the identity of the five passengers on board. It is also understood that there were no other casualties on the ground when the helicopter crashed.
Sources say Srivaddhanaprabha, who has two sons and two daughters, was the only member of his family on the flight. The 60-year-old was due to fly to Luton Airport before taking a private jet back to Thailand. Srivaddhanaprabha is a hugely popular figure with Leicester supporters, having provided the backing that saw them win their first-ever Premier League title in 2016.
Eyewitnesses said that the Augusta AW169 helicopter struggled to clear the roof of the stadium and spiralled to ground after developing a fault around an hour after the end of the game. Emergency services rushed to the scene to tackle a huge fire after the helicopter exploded.
It has been suggested by sources that Jon Rudkin, Leicester’s director of football, was supposed to be on the flight but stayed in Leicester.
Plea for patience
Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, Leicester’s vice-chairman and Vichai’s son, flew to the UK from Thailand on Sunday. Leicestershire police pleaded for patience from the public as crash investigators took control of the site.
The exact circumstances of the crash remain unclear, with footage of the incident yet to be released. Eyewitnesses said that the helicopter fell shortly after taking flight. It was said to have spun out of control before landing outside a fence surrounding the stadium perimeter. It 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.
The tragedy has rocked the city, with supporters flocking to the stadium to pay their respects on Sunday. Police cordoned off the south-east corner of the stadium, preventing access to the crash site.
Chaos and confusion had reigned during the initial aftermath of the accident. Onlookers walked away from the scene in obvious distress and Kasper Schmeichel, Leicester’s goalkeeper, was seen in tears outside the ground. Schmeichel, who had a close relationship with Vichai, did not leave the stadium until late on Saturday night.
Leicester’s home game against Southampton in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night is set to be called off.
Martin George, a former Leicester chairman, said: “I’d just the 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, 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 with 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, express my feelings. I’ve been upstairs to speak to them and had a walk round. This is the last thing you’d expect.”
The investigation into the crash will take several days, police said in a statement on Sunday afternoon. “We understand there is a considerable amount of public and media interest into the helicopter crash outside the King Power Stadium last night. News of the crash, which happened in a car park near the stadium just after 8.30pm, has had an impact on many people and we appreciate there is a clear desire for updates and clarity around the circumstances.
It just came out of the stadium already spinning, then down to the ground. Just in a spiral. It hit the ground with a big bang then burst into flames
“Leicestershire police, East Midlands ambulance service and Leicestershire fire and rescue service all responded to the incident last night and inquiries continue at the scene today, led by the air accidents investigation branch. These enquiries are expected to continue over the coming days. As soon as we are able to confirm any further details around the incident, we will do so. In the interim we ask that you are patient, understanding and resist speculating on the detail and the circumstances.”
The crash was witnessed by a number of fans. Tim Acott, a Leicester season ticket holder for 40 years, said: “It just came out of the stadium already spinning, then down to the ground. Just in a spiral. It hit the ground with a big bang then burst into flames. It’s over on the other side of the car park, I don’t think there were people there. I’m shaking like anything.”
Players in Premier League matches on Sunday wore black armbands as a mark of respect and minute’s silences were held before many games. The Leicester manager, Claude Puel, spoke of his sadness at the news. “It’s a tragedy for the club,” he said. “I think very strongly about the victims and their families . . . I’m terribly sad.”
Throughout Sunday fans arrived at the ground to pay tribute, leaving flowers, scarves and football shirts. Not all were Leicester fans. A Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter laid down his club’s shirt that read: “Divided by colours, united by grief.”