LEICESTER • Leicester City football club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, a Thai tycoon, was among five people who were in a helicopter which crashed in a ball of flames after a Premier League match on Saturday, a source close to the club said.
Also on board were two pilots and one other person whose identity were not immediately known, the source said yesterday. The source also named a fifth person on board.
There was no confirmation that anyone on board survived, the source said. Leicester police said inquiries into the crash would continue.
Mr Vichai, a father of four and the founder of duty-free giant King Power International, is a huge favourite with the fans after he bought the unfancied side from central England in 2010 and they went on to stun the football world by winning the English Premier League title in 2016.
In Thailand, officials at King Power said they could not yet comment on the crash or say whether Mr Vichai had been on board when it spiralled out of control and crashed around an hour after Leicester had played a match at the King Power Stadium against West Ham United, drawing 1-1.
The club said it was assisting police and emergency services and would issue a more detailed statement in due course.
The helicopter crashed just yards from the pitch in the club's carpark. Team manager Claude Puel was not on the helicopter, the source said. According to witnesses, the helicopter had just cleared the top of the stadium before it started to spin. It then plummeted to the ground and burst into flames.
One witness cited by the BBC said he saw Leicester player Kasper Schmeichel run out of the stadium towards the scene of the crash.
Mr John Butcher, who was near the stadium at the time of the crash, told the BBC his nephew saw the helicopter spiral out of control apparently due to 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."
Freelance photographer Ryan Brown was covering the game and saw the helicopter clear the stadium before it crashed. "Literally, the engine stopped and I turned around, and it made a bit of a whirring noise," Mr Brown told BBC Radio 5 Live. "It turned silent, blades started spinning and then there was a big bang."
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.
According to Forbes magazine, he is the fifth-richest person in Thailand with an estimated net worth of US$4.9 billion (S$6.8 billion). The family's empire also includes Belgian football club Oud-Heverlee Leuven.
Leading Leicester players, including Jamie Vardy and Harry Maguire, sent messages of support on Twitter while rival clubs, including Manchester City, also voiced their concern.
Premier League teams observed a moment of silence ahead of the matches between Burnley and Chelsea, and Crystal Palace and Arsenal yesterday afternoon, the BBC reported.
Fans laid down football scarves, shirts, flowers and candles outside Leicester City's King Power Stadium yesterday. An image of Ganesh - a Hindu god often found at Thai Buddhist temples - could also be seen. Many people were in tears and were consoling one another as they approached the stadium.
"I was really upset. I can't get to sleep over it," Mr Kanti Patel, a Leicester City fan, told AFP as emergency workers pored over the crash site. "It means a lot to me; he did a lot for the club," Mr Patel said.
Another fan, Mr Tom Lievers, arrived with a "Champions" scarf to pay tribute to Mr Vichai. Fellow supporter Andrew Aldwinckle said: "He was more like a supporter, a proper supporter, rather than a money man. He was one of the crowd."
Mr Steve Walton, who wore the club's blue hat, said: "I think there are a lot of Leicester fans around the world - not just in Leicester, but around the world - who I think will be devastated and he meant a lot to the fans."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE