LEICESTER, ENGLAND (BLOOMBERG, AFP, REUTERS) – Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the chairman of the Leicester City football club, was on a helicopter that crashed outside the club's King Power Stadium, the BBC has reported.
Also on board were one of Mr Vichai’s two daughters, two pilots and a fifth person whose identity was not immediately known, a source close to the club said Sunday (Oct 28). There were no confirmed details on whether anyone on board survived, the source said.
The crash happened about 45 minutes after the team played West Ham. The chopper, owned by Mr Vichai, got into problems shortly after takeoff and slammed into a nearby carpark, bursting into a ball of flames, according to multiple reports.
The BBC reported that a person close to the family said Mr Vichai was on the helicopter when the incident occurred at about 8.30pm local time.
“We are assisting Leicestershire Police and the emergency services in dealing with a major incident at King Power Stadium. The Club will issue a more detailed statement once further information has been established,” a Leicester City spokesman said in a statement on Twitter.
Mr Vichai is worth US$3.3 billion (S$4.5 billion), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Most of his wealth derives from King Power Group, which he developed into Thailand’s biggest duty-free company. He also controls 4 per cent of AirAsia, the region’s biggest discount carrier.
The Thai businessman, who has poured millions into the club, often leaves the stadium in his helicopter, which takes off from the pitch, when he attends a Leicester home game.
A huge fireball
Freelance photographer Ryan Brown, who was covering the game, told BBC Radio 5 Live he saw the helicopter rise out of the stadium before it crashed.
“Literally the engine stopped and I turned around, and it made a bit of a whirring noise. It turned silent, blades started spinning and then there was a big bang,” he said.
He said he saw “a huge fireball” when he ran to the scene.
The identities of the pilot and any passengers on board have not yet been confirmed. It is also not yet known if anyone on the ground was injured.
Officials at Thailand’s King Power said on Sunday that they could make no comment on the accident yet.
Two King Power officials contacted by Reuters said they could neither confirm nor deny whether Mr Vichai was on board the helicopter.
"We cannot say anything and no statement can be given yet,” one of the King Power officials said.
Mr Vichai, who owns the King Power company, bought the club in 2010 and became chairman the following February.
Leicester City footballers Jamie Vardy and Harry Maguire both tweeted praying hands emojis.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour MP for Leicester South, tweeted: “Awful horrific scenes at @LCFC with the helicopter crash. I’ve been in touch with our emergency services and thanked them for responding so quickly. Our hopes and prayers for all those caught up in this desperately awful incident.”
The local ambulance service said it was alerted at 2138 GMT.
“We sent a doctor, two paramedics in ambulance cars, a crewed ambulance and our Hazardous Area Response Team, with the first resource arriving within two minutes of the call,” it tweeted.
Sky Sports said the helicopter took off from the pitch between 8.30pm and 8.45pm local time but developed problems shortly afterwards with its tail rotor.
It was under the ownership of Mr Vichai that Leicester created one of the biggest shocks in English football history by winning the 2015/16 Premier League, having started the season as 5,000/1 outsiders for the title.
West Ham defender Pablo Zabaleta, who played in Saturday’s game, tweeted: “My thoughts and prayers are with all those involved in the helicopter accident at Leicester City.”
His team mate Declan Rice tweeted: “Horrendous scenes at the King Power tonight, my prayers & thoughts go out to everyone involved at Leicester.”
Mr Vichai made major investments in the club after his purchase, returning them to England’s Premier League from the second-tier Championship in 2014.
They seemed initially outmatched by richer and more established clubs from London, Liverpool and Manchester, languishing at the very bottom the table for most of the 2014-15 season.
The Foxes, as the team are known, then engineered what fans now fondly refer to as the “Great Escape”, winning seven of their last nine matches.
They ended up finishing 14th, securing themselves another season in Europe’s richest league in 2015-16.
But not even their most devout fans could have imagined what happened next.
Vardy, signed from unheralded Fleetwood Town, scored in 11 consecutive matches, propelling the men in blue to a title without parallel in Premier League history.
The success also qualified them for the first time for the Champions League, the lucrative championship played by Europe’s most successful side, including Barcelona and Real Madrid.
There, Leicester City defied the odds yet again, winning their group before eventually losing the quarter-final 2-1 over two matches to Atletico Madrid.