KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has been confirmed as having been among the five people killed when his helicopter crashed just after taking off from the King Power Stadium following Saturday evening’s 1-1 draw with West Ham United.
The helicopter took off from the pitch at 8.30pm, just over an hour after the game, before spinning out of control and crashing and exploding in flames near car park E, which is used by Leicester’s staff. The other individuals are believed to include the pilot, two members of staff and one other person.
A club statement said: “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.
Vision to legacy
“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.
“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. 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.
“Both Tuesday’s First Team fixture against Southampton in the EFL Cup and the Development Squad fixture against Feyenoord in the Premier League International Cup have been postponed.
“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 crash site was adjacent to two car parks on Filbert Way, on the corner of the stadium’s East Stand and South Stand. West Ham’s squad were already on their way back to London at the time.
He told BBC Radio Leicester: “The engine stopped and I turned round and it made a bit of a whirring noise, like a grinding noise. The helicopter just went silent, I turned round and it was just spinning, out of control. And then there was a big bang and then [a] big fireball.”
Peter Tarry, a Sunday Times photographer, who was loading his equipment into his car nearby, said: “I heard a noise above and looked up. I wasn’t sure what it was at first, it was dark. The way it was lit up made me realise it was a helicopter.
“It was coming out of the stadium and in our direction. Then the whirring stopped and was replaced by a sound like an engine suddenly breaking down. I looked up and the helicopter just dropped. It crashed into the corner of a car park just behind the stadium. It turned into a fireball, with great plumes of smoke and the acrid smell of burnt metal and fuel.
“I went towards the car park and no one was quite sure how to react or what had happened. It was strange how the crash looked so neatly contained in a corner of the car park. I assume that was through luck. Another 200 yards and it would have crashed on the railway tracks or the car park where I was.”
Other witnesses described the helicopter rising from inside the King Power, travelling only a few hundred feet from the stadium, then making an “odd noise” and going silent before entering a 360-degree tailspin.
Witnesses of the crash included former England and Leicester legend Peter Shilton and his wife Stephanie.
Messages of concern and sympathy poured in including from Leicester Mayor Peter Soulsby who tweeted that his thoughts and prayers were “with all – particularly owners who’ve done so much for club and our city.”
Karren Brady, chief executive of Leicester’s opponents, West Ham, last night tweeted: “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.”
The Thai billionaire, born on April 4, 1958, is the founder, owner and chairman of King Power one of the largest international duty-free airport retailers. He was born Vichai Raksriaksorn and was granted the honorific Srivaddhanapraba surname by the King of Thailand in recognition of his services to the country.
He bought Leicester City in August 2010 for £39m from Milan Mandaric after having earlier concluding a shirt and stadium sponsorship deal. He wwrote off £103m in debts when he became chairman in February 2011 with son, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, as vice-chairman. Aiyawatt was not at the match.
They are based in London and were initially Chelsea fans, owning an executive box at Stamford Bridge. Then they became sponsors of Leicester. Explaining the further step to owners, Vichai once said: “After spending time studying many clubs, I fell in love with Leicester.
“One reason was the colours, which were the same as my company’s. The other was the fact they were playing in the second tier. If we bought a Premier League club, it wouldn’t be challenging enough.”
They also own a successful polo team and have played with Prince Charles and Prince William at the Cartier Queen’s Cup at Windsor in 2015.
Under Vichai’s leadership the Foxes achieved one of the major football upsets in recent years by winning the 2016 Premier League title. He gave the successful players a gift of £100,000 each.
He is appreciated by the players for his personal touch and generosity. After promotion in 2013-14, he treated the squad to caviar and vintage wines at an exclusive west London restaurant and gave each player and member of staff a £1,000 chip to gamble at a nearby private members’ club.
The owners were heavily criticised for the managerial appointment in ?? of Claudio Ranieiri. But his deployment of the little-known pair of N’Golo Kante in midfield and Riyad Mahrez on the wing provided a perfect foundation for the goal-scoring aptitude of Jamie Vardy.
Leicester lost only three league games — two of those to Arsenal — all season and won the title by 10 points. Shortly before the 2016–17 season, Vichai presented 19 BMW i8s — worth £100,000 each — to the Leicester players.
At the end of the title season Robert Huth said: “It really does start at the top. The owners, I mean they do everything for us. This filters down to the manager, his assistants and then the players. I have never had so much help from a club.”
Vichai, who has four children, also donated sums of £1m to local hospitals and universities. He extended his football interests in May 2017 with the purchase of Belgian second division club OH Leuven.