Leicester, UK : Leicester City has confirmed that club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was among five people who died in a helicopter crash outside its stadium on Saturday.
In a statement late Sunday, the club praised the Thai billionaire as 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.”
Leicestershire police said the other victims had not yet been formally identified but were believed to be two members of Srivaddhanaprabha’s staff, Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz.
“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,” the club said.
Srivaddhanaprabha took over the club in 2010 and was a much-respected and popular figure locally, also because of his charitable efforts.
His status was assured in May 2016 when Leicester won the Premier League, in one of the biggest surprises in sporting history, having been 5,000-1 outsiders when the season began.
The helicopter took off from the Leicester pitch around an hour after his team’s 1-1 draw with West Ham on Saturday evening.
Moments later, it crashed just outside the ground.
Fans and well-wishers had been gathering at Leicester’s King Power ground from early Sunday, laying flowers and scarves and sharing stories.
Leicester striker Jamie Vardy offered his own tribute 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,” he said.
“Thank you for everything you did for me, my family and our club. I will truly miss you … may you rest in peace.”
Leicester defender Harry Maguire echoed his sentiments.
“Words can’t describe how I feel,” he said on Twitter. “A truly great, kind, loving man who will be missed so much by everyone.
Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said he was “devastated and heartbroken”.
“It’s difficult to put into words how much you have meant to this football club,” he wrote on Instagram.
“We all know about the investment in the football club you and your family have made.
“But this is about so much more. You cared so deeply for not just the club but for the entire community. Your endless contributions to Leicester’s hospitals and charities will never be forgotten.”
Former Leicester players, including former England captain Gary Lineker, had expressed their shock before Sunday’s confirmation of his death.
“Thoughts are with everyone at Leicester City,” he wrote on Twitter late Saturday. “A terrible tragedy. Heartbreaking.”
Former Leicester and England goalkeeper Peter Shilton also offered his tribute.
“RIP to the greatest ever Owner of LCFC,” he said on Twitter. It was a privilege to have met him and condolences to the families who lost their loved ones in last night’s tragedy.”
Leicester’s League Cup match against Southampton, scheduled for Tuesday, has been postponed, the club said.
EARLIER : Leicester City Owner Was In Crashed Helicopter
Stunned Leicester City fans have gathered at the club’s ground after its owner’s helicopter crashed in a car park outside the stadium.
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was in the helicopter when it came down at about 20:30 BST on Saturday, a source close to the family has told reporters. Four other people were reportedly on board with Mr Srivaddhanaprabha. Also on board were one of Vichai’s two daughters, two pilots and a fifth person whose identity was not immediately known,
One witness said he saw Leicester player Kasper Schmeichel run out of the stadium towards the scene of the crash.
Leicester had drawn 1-1 against West Ham United at the King Power Stadium, with the match finishing about one hour before the helicopter took off from the pitch.
Witnesses said they saw it just clear the stadium before it spiralled out of control, with some describing seeing a fireball as it crashed.
The club said it was assisting police and emergency services and would issue a more detailed statement in due course.
Under Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s ownership, Leicester City won the Premier League in 2016, having started the season as 5,000/1 outsiders.
Many people have been in tears as they approach stadium and they’ve all been consoling each other.
Richard Mobbs, from Burton Overy in Leicestershire, said he last saw the chairman in June when they discussed a player who was about to join the club.
“I spoke to Vichai a lot,” the 68-year-old said.
“It is such a shock. You just have to pay your respects.”
Mr Mobbs described Mr Srivaddhanaprabha as a “lovely, quiet, down to earth man”, and paid tribute to his family.
“They are all friendly,” he said.
“This season they bought me a season ticket.”
Anupat Maturongpituck, a student from Thailand studying at the University of Leicester, came to the King Power Stadium on Sunday to “pay my respects”, adding news of the crash has had a “great impact” in Thailand.
Freelance photographer Ryan Brown, who was covering the game, saw the helicopter clear the King Power Stadium before it crashed.
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.”
A Leicester season ticker holder, who did not wish to be named, said he saw goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel run out from the stadium followed by “loads of security guards and stewards”.
“I was stood outside the ground but it crashed on the other side,” he said.
Another witness said it appeared “the tail propeller wasn’t working, putting it into a spin”.
Andrew Brodie, assistant chief fire officer at Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service, said the crash was “clearly serious and tragic”.
He tweeted early on Sunday that he had just left “multiagency strategic meetings” at Leicestershire Police’s HQ, and asked for people not to speculate on the causes or people involved.
“Think of families, friends, responders, and @LCFC and their fans,” he said.
Leicestershire Police said officers were working alongside the other emergency services, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) and Leicester City FC to establish the circumstances of the collision.
Nick Rushton, leader of Leicestershire County Council, said he was “deeply concerned” by the crash, and paid tribute to emergency services staff for their “professional response”.
Labour MP Jon Ashworth, who represents Leicester South, said he had been in touch with emergency services and thanked them for responding so quickly.
Leicester Mayor Peter Soulsby tweeted that his thoughts and prayers were “with all – particularly owners who’ve done so much for club and our city”.
Mark Kent, the former British ambassador to Thailand, said he was “shocked” to hear of the crash, adding that he had celebrated Leicester’s 2016 title win with the club’s chairman.
A match between Leicester City Women and Manchester United Women that was set to take place on Sunday has been postponed.
Former Leicester City and England striker Gary Lineker signed off on Match of the Day by saying it had been a “dreadful day”
Vichai, a father of four and the founder of duty-free giant King Power International, is a huge favorite with the fans after he bought the unfancied side from central England in 2010 and they went on to stun the soccer world by winning the Premier League title in 2016.
In Thailand, officials at King Power said they could not yet comment on the crash or say whether Vichai had been aboard when it spiraled out of control and crashed around an hour after the game. The club has not commented on that publicly.