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• Thai owner’s helicopter crashed on Saturday night
• Vichai bought Leicester City in 2010
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha: the man who helped Leicester to ‘dream the impossible’ – video report
Leicester City’s owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, died in the helicopter crash outside the club’s stadium on Saturday, it was confirmed on Sunday night by the club.
He was one of five people killed – all onboard the helicopter – when the accident occurred around an hour after the club’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.”
Leicestershire police have named the other four passengers as Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, both members of Vichai’s staff, 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.
Vichai, 60, was a hugely popular figure at Leicester, having bought the club for £39m in 2010. With his backing the club won the Premier League in 2016 for the first time in its history, defying the odds of 5,000-1.
The self-made billionaire and father of four was also respected locally for his charity work, having donated £2m to Leicester Children’s Hospital. His surname, meaning “light of progressive glory” in Thai, had been bestowed on him by King Bhumibol, the former monarch of Thailand, in recognition of his corporate and social responsibility programmes.
Leicester players were swift to pay tribute. The goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel described himself as “totally devastated and heartbroken” and added: “Never have I ever come across a man like you. So hard working, so passionate, so kind and so generous in the extreme. You changed football. Forever! You gave hope to everyone that the impossible was possible. You literally made my dreams come true. We now have a responsibility as a club, as players and fans to honour you.”
The defender Ben Chilwell tweeted: “Vichai was one of the best people you could wish to meet. Making you happy made him happy, he was always smiling and laughing.” Jamie Vardy said on Instagram: “Struggling to find the right words, but to me you are a legend, an incredible man who had the biggest heart, the soul of Leicester City Football Club. Thank you for everything you did for me, my family and our club. I will truly miss you.”
The British prime minister Theresa May also paid tribute. In a statement on Monday morning she said: “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.”
Vichai regularly left home matches in his Augusta AW169 helicopter and on Saturday he was due to travel in it to Luton Airport before taking his private jet to Thailand.
Eyewitness reports indicated that the helicopter only just cleared the roof of the stands, stayed in the air briefly then spiralled down to earth after reportedly developing a fault with its tail rotor. The aircraft crashed and erupted into flames after impact where it lay on land owned by the club, near a car park used by Leicester’s staff, which was empty at the time.
Emergency services rushed to the scene to tackle the fire and search the wreckage, with the area eventually cordoned off by Leicestershire police.
Witnesses praised Swaffer, who was at the controls when the helicopter crashed, as a hero for guiding it away from crowds on the ground. His LinkedIn page lists extensive flying experience dating back to 1989, including a period at easyJet before he became a contract pilot.
Lechowicz was also a professional pilot, and she and Swaffer lived together in Camberley, Surrey. She had moved to the UK from Poland in 1997 and was recently selected for her profession by her country’s embassy in London as one of 18 inspirational Polish women.
Writing earlier this year for the embassy website about her path to becoming a pilot, she said she had been inspired by her partner. “Shortly after [coming to the UK] I also met my partner, who back then worked as an airline and helicopter pilot,” she wrote. “He took me out for a few flights, and that is how it all started. I knew this is something I want to do from the moment I touched the controls for the first time.”
Members of the public travelled to the stadium to leave tributes on Sunday. Players in Premier League matches 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.
In Thailand, where Vichai’s ownership of the Leicester club had become a source of great national pride and prompted many Thais to switch allegiances from popular clubs Manchester United and Liverpool, well known figures in football and politics paid tribute.
Nualphan Lamsam, who manages Thailand’s national women’s football team, sent “thoughts and prayers” to Vichai’s family while Anutin Charnvirakul, leader of the Bhumjai Thai political party, told local media that he considered Vichai to be like a “big brother”
“He is a self-made man, worked hard and loved friends dearly,” he said. “We just lost someone who made big contributions to the public. I am sure his legacy will live on.”
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.
The Leicester City statement said a book of condolence, to be shared with the Srivaddhanaprabha family, would be opened from 8am on Tuesday 30 October for supporters wishing to pay their respects. It continued: “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 statement 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.”