Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha confirmed dead in helicopter crash

Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha confirmed dead in helicopter crash
PHOTO: Reuters

LEICESTER - Leicester City football club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, a Thai tycoon, was killed along with four others when his helicopter crashed and then exploded after a Premier League match last Saturday (Oct 27), the club and police said.  

Mr Vichai, 60, bought the unfancied side from central England in 2010 and went on to stun the football world by beating odds of 5,000/1 to win the Premier League title in 2016 in what amounted to a sporting fairytale. 

The father of four and founder of duty-free giant 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.

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.

Thai billionaire Vichai's family visits Leicester crash site

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    Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, son of Leicester City's owner Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, clasps his hands together as he stands infront of Jamie Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel amongst tributes left for Vichai and four other people who died when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed as it left the ground after the match on Saturday, in Leicester, Britain, October 29, 2018.

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    The family of the late Thai billionaire boss of Premier League club Leicester City paid tribute to him on Monday at the site where his helicopter crashed as investigators began examining the aircraft's black box.

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    Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha (right) and Aimon Srivaddhanaprabha, the son and wife of Leicester City's Thai chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha who died in a helicopter crash at the club's stadium, look at the floral tributes left to the victims of the crash.

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    Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha's son and widow were seen laying a wreath among a sea of tributes from fans outside the stadium, including flowers, football scarves and Buddhist statues.

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    Vichai's son Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, known as "Top", is chief executive of his father's duty-free empire King Power and also vice-chairman of the football club Vichai bought in 2010.

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    Along with other family members and executives from King Power, the two were also seen laying wreaths at the crash site in a car park near the stadium, which is still cordoned off as air accident investigators pick through the wreckage.

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    Five people died in Saturday's crash, including also two members of Vichai's staff, Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, pilot Eric Swaffer and the pilot's girlfriend, Izabela Roza Lechowicz, also a pilot.

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    Nursara Suknamai was an actress and a runner-up in Miss Thailand Universe in 2005.

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    The reins of King Power Group's multi-billion-baht business empire is now in the hands of 32-year-old Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha.

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    With his father gone, Aiyawatt has to take over as the CEO of King Power Group as well as chairman of the English Premier League football club Leicester City.

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    However, it remains unclear if Aiyawatt has his father's mettle, especially in terms of having a formidable wheeler-dealer attitude, even though he has been groomed over the past several years for these new challenges.

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    Fans laid down hundreds of football scarves, shirts and flowers outside Leicester City's stadium on Sunday, a day after the club's Thai billionaire owner died in a helicopter crash just outside the ground.

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    Fans streamed to the stadium to express their gratitude long before official confirmation that the 60-year-old businessman, who frequently flies to and from Leicester's home games by helicopter, was aboard the aircraft.

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    Four other people on the helicopter, including two members of Vichai's staff, were also killed in the crash.

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    Residents remembered a determined and charismatic figure who was the driving force behind a footballing feat when the club rose through the ranks to win the top spot two years ago.

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    Many also remembered the owner's generosity to fans -- free breakfasts at away matches and free beers on his birthday -- as well as to the city, including a donation to the local hospital.

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    Vichai also brought Thailand greater recognition in the international sporting world, developing the Southeast Asian country's football scene.

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    Kanti Patel, one of the first supporters to come to pay tribute in the early hours of Sunday, told AFP: "It means a lot to me, he did a lot for the club. "I can't get over it. Since him being with the club the club has done well, and I don't know what's going to happen now."

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    Another fan, Nathavut Sirimontaporn, said Vichai had brought "benefits" to Thai football. "I think having him as an owner of the Leicester City made people know Thailand more," he said.

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    A man kneels with a statue of the Buddha and devotional scripture in front of the floral tributes gathered outside Leicester City Football Club's King Power Stadium in Leicester, eastern England, on October 28, 2018

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    Pedestrians walk past a mural showing Leicester City Football Club's Thai chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha near De Montfort University in Leicester, eastern England, on October 28, 2018.

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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.

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

After pumping millions of pounds into the club, Mr 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 Mr 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, Mr Vichai was the fifth-richest person in Thailand, with an estimated net worth of US$4.9 billion (S$6.8 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 the AW169 helicopter was the first such aircraft to be involved in an accident. 

The English Football League (EFL) said Leicester City’s round-four Carabao Cup tie with Southampton, scheduled for Tuesday, has been postponed because of the incident.

The match was due to have been held at the King Power Stadium.

The league 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.

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