Srivaddhanaprabha family pays tribute as football world mourns with 'collective broken heart' the victims of Leicester helicopter crash

Dimitri Kondonis
Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha lays a wreath in memory of his father with his mother Aimon (second right). Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha lays a wreath in memory of his father with his mother Aimon (second right). Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Leicester vice chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha laid a floral tribute at the King Power Stadium after the tragic death of his father and the club’s owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.

Aiyawatt was joined by his mother and Vichai’s wife Aimon at the ground on Monday morning as fans continued to display their sympathies.

Club officials, including director of football Jon Rudkin and chief executive Susan Whelan, also attended as they viewed the floral tributes and the family laid their own.

The president of the Thai FA, Somyot Poompanmoung and his wife, Potjaman Poompamoung, were also among the group, while various personalities from sport and showbiz – including Kasabian singer Tom Meighan – also arrived.

Mr Srivaddhanaprabha was confirmed as one of the five dead in Saturday’s helicopter crash.

Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, son of Leicester Chairman Vichai who was among those to have tragically lost their lives on Saturday evening. Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, son of Leicester Chairman Vichai who was among those to have tragically lost their lives on Saturday evening. Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha lays a wreath in memory of his father with his mother Aimon. Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha lays a wreath in memory of his father with his mother Aimon. Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Supporters pay tribute at Leicester City Football Club. Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Supporters pay tribute at Leicester City Football Club. Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Kasabian singer Tom Meighan pays tribute outside the King Power Stadium. Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Kasabian singer Tom Meighan pays tribute outside the King Power Stadium. Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, who were members of Srivaddhanaprabha’s staff, as well as pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz were named as the other victims.

Mr Srivaddhanaprabha, 60, was set to fly back to London after Leicester’s 1-1 draw with West Ham – a mode of transport the Thai owner had regularly used.

But witnesses said the helicopter seemed to spiral out of control moments after it set off from Leicester’s King Power Stadium at about 8.30pm on Saturday and plummeted into the car park.

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READ MORE: Prince William pays tribute to Leicester owner Srivaddhanaprabha

Tributes are paid to the Leicester owner and victims of the helicopter crash (SWNS)
Tributes are paid to the Leicester owner and victims of the helicopter crash (SWNS)
Tributes are paid to the Leicester owner and victims of the helicopter crash (SWNS)
Tributes are paid to the Leicester owner and victims of the helicopter crash (SWNS)
Leicester helicopter crash: How the tragedy played out
Leicester helicopter crash: How the tragedy played out

Leicester City Football Club wrote: “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.”

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‘A ‘hero’ and an exceptional woman’

Ms Lechowicz, who moved to the UK from Poland in 1997, and Mr Swaffer were professional pilots and lived together in Camberley, Surrey.

Police said Mr Swaffer was at the controls when the aircraft crashed, with witnesses hailing him as a hero for guiding the spinning helicopter away from crowds on the ground.

Ms Lechowicz was selected by her country’s London embassy as one of 18 exceptional Polish women who inspired the community in the UK for being a pilot.

The club statement added a book of condolence would be available to sign from Tuesday morning at King Power Stadium, while supporters would also be able to leave a message online.

Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha died in the helicopter crash which killed five people
Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha died in the helicopter crash which killed five people
Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s assistant, Kaveporn Punpare, was another victim of the helicopter crash. (Facebook)
Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s assistant, Kaveporn Punpare, was another victim of the helicopter crash. (Facebook)
Pilot Eric Swaffer, who died in the crash, pictured with the Dalai Lama. (PA)
Pilot Eric Swaffer, who died in the crash, pictured with the Dalai Lama. (PA)
Nusara Suknamai, a former Miss Thailand Universe competitor who was also tragically killed, pictured in a social media image with Leicester striker Jamie Vardy. (Instagram)
Nusara Suknamai, a former Miss Thailand Universe competitor who was also tragically killed, pictured in a social media image with Leicester striker Jamie Vardy. (Instagram)
Co-pilot Izabela Lechowicz, who died when the helicopter she was travelling in crashed. Jadwiga Bronte /PA Wire
Co-pilot Izabela Lechowicz, who died when the helicopter she was travelling in crashed. Jadwiga Bronte /PA Wire

Their first team EFL Cup fixture against Southampton was postponed, as well as their development squad and ladies’ fixtures.

“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 statement added.

Prime Minister 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.”

Superintendent Steve Potter, of Leicestershire Police, said: “This is an incredibly tragic incident in which five people are understood have lost their lives.

“Emergency services were immediately on scene when the crash happened, working to put out the fire and gain access to the helicopter in attempts to reach those inside. Despite those efforts, there were no survivors.

“The AAIB is now leading an investigation to establish the exact circumstances surrounding the crash and investigators will remain at the scene to complete their initial enquiries. It is likely to take several days to fully complete the necessary work and to safely deal with the scene of this tragic accident, during that time we ask that both the media and public resist speculating around the cause of the crash.

“We appreciate that both the public and media were keen to be updated on the circumstances and to confirm if those on board the helicopter had survived, but before any detail could be issued publicly, it was vital that all immediate next of kin were informed of the tragic outcome. As our communities will understand, this was a matter that needed to be handled sensitively and with dignity, with the families of the deceased being at the heart of our response, which involved other agencies.

“Our thoughts today are with the families of those who have sadly died, with Leicester City Football Club, and with both football supporters and the wider local community who have all been impacted by the events of last night and the news that those on board the aircraft have not survived.”

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IN PICTURES: Fans pay tribute to victims after helicopter crash

Supporters pay tribute at Leicester City Football Club following the helicopter crash. (Aaron Chown/PA Wire)
Supporters pay tribute at Leicester City Football Club following the helicopter crash. (Aaron Chown/PA Wire)
A man takes a picture of his friend standing next to a mural of the Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (Aaron Chown/PA Wire)
A man takes a picture of his friend standing next to a mural of the Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (Aaron Chown/PA Wire)

The air accident watchdog has launched an investigation into why the aircraft fell to earth in a car park near the stadium a few hours after Leicester drew 1-1 with West Ham.

The aircraft’s manufacturers said it was the first accident involving one of its Agusta Westland AW169 helicopters.

‘Darkest day’ in club’s history

The tragedy is being described as the “darkest day” in the club’s history, and mourners began laying wreaths near the stadium on Sunday morning.

Bouquets, flags and football shirts have been left outside the ground by members of the public on Sunday morning alongside a large image of the Hindu god Ganesh which was also propped up amidst the flowers.

A small candle was placed in front of the flowers as more people gradually gathered to pray for anybody who may have been on the helicopter.

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Messages from Leicester fans on the flowers included “In our thoughts!!” and “Thank you xx”.

One fan left a card of a fox with their flowers which read: “Thinking of you all.”

Self-made Thai billionaire Mr Srivaddhanaprabha very highly thought of in the city after he bought the Foxes for £39 million in 2010, and became chairman the following February.

Under his ownership the club rose out of the Championship and eventually won the Premier League for the first time in its history in 2015-16, defying odds of 5,000-1.

The 60-year-old is also praised for his charity work, donating £2 million towards a new children’s hospital.

Fire service equipment arrives outside the King Power Stadium in Leicester (Aaron Chown/PA Wire)
Fire service equipment arrives outside the King Power Stadium in Leicester (Aaron Chown/PA Wire)
A man prays next to floral tributes at Leicester City (Aaron Chown/PA Wire)
A man prays next to floral tributes at Leicester City (Aaron Chown/PA Wire)

Air investigation commences

Leicestershire Police has said the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) will now be leading the investigation into the circumstances of the helicopter crash.

The AAIB confirmed on Sunday morning its investigators had been deployed at the site.

A spokesman added: “A team from the AAIB has been deployed to the site and is investigating. Anyone with information that might be helpful to the investigation is asked to contact the police.”

In a statement released in the early hours of Sunday, the police said: “The aircraft came down in a car park near the stadium shortly after 8.30pm yesterday evening (Saturday 27 October) with Leicestershire Police, East Midlands Ambulance Service and Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service all responding to the incident.

“A cordon is currently in place at the scene to enable the AAIB to examine the area and complete their initial enquiries.

“Leicestershire Police will be supporting the AAIB in its investigation, liaising closely with Leicester City Football Club as enquiries continue.”

East Midlands Ambulance Service said the alarm was raised at 8.38pm and it sent a doctor, ambulance and team of paramedics alongside a hazardous area response team to the car park outside the stadium.

The website Planefinder said that Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s Agusta Westland AW169 helicopter set off from near Fairoaks Airport in Surrey at about 2.45pm on Saturday, and travelled into Fulham, west London, before turning north and proceeding to the King Power Stadium in Leicester.


‘You are a legend… the soul of Leicester’

A number of Leicester’s first team squad took to social media after the club confirmed the news, with England striker Jamie Vardy leading the tributes on Instagram.

“Struggling to find the right words…but to me you are 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… may you rest in peace.”

An emotional Kasper Schmeichel vowed to “honour” the Leicester owner.

“Dear Mr Chairman. I cannot believe this is happening. I am so totally devastated and heartbroken. I just cannot believe what I saw last night. It just doesn’t seem real,” he wrote.

“It is difficult to put into words how much you meant to this football club and to the city of Leicester. 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. From knowing you we do this by being the family you created.”

Match of the Day host and former Leicester City striker Gary Lineker added on Instagram: “Deeply saddened to hear the confirmation that @lcfc chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was one of 5 people to lose their lives in the helicopter crash on Saturday evening.

“A quiet, unassuming man who will always be remembered with great fondness and respect.

“He also helped to bring the most magical, miraculous title win in the history of football. Thank you, Chairman for all you did for our football club. #RIP.”

Former Leicester player Alan Birchenall, now a club ambassador, revealed Srivaddhanaprabha, who donated millions to local charities, had proved a staunch ally to him after he suffered a heart attack.

Birchenall told Sky Sports News: “What this club gave back to me through Khun Vichai is unbelievable. In fact, when I was out of action, the club sent me a cleaner to come and clean my little hovel, and she’s still doing it today 18 months on!

“That’s Khun Vichai. He knew and he said, ‘You’ve still got that cleaner, Birchy. She was only supposed to be with you until you got on your feet again!’. But that was him.”

Jamie Vardy takes to social media to issue a tribute to the Leicester City owner
Jamie Vardy takes to social media to issue a tribute to the Leicester City owner

Additional reporting by PA.