William leads tributes to Leicester City owner as family visits crash scene

The Duke of Cambridge has praised Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s “big contribution to football” after the billionaire duty-free entrepreneur was killed in a helicopter crash outside the club’s King Power Stadium on Saturday.

William, president of the Football Association and a keen football fan, said he was “lucky” to have known Mr Srivaddhanaprabha “for several years”, as tributes continued to flood in for the Thai businessman and the four other people on board.

He joined Prime Minister Theresa May in sending his thoughts to the victims’ families, friends and the supporters, while Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s son Aiyawatt was among those to lay a wreath at the ground.

Leicester helicopter crash
Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha lays a wreath in memory of his father, with his mother Aimon (Mike Egerton/PA)

In a statement, the duke said: “I was lucky to have known Vichai for several years.

“He was a businessman of strong values who was dedicated to his family and who supported a number of important charitable causes.

“He made such a big contribution to football, not least through Leicester City’s magical 2016 season that captured the imagination of the world.

“He will be missed by all fans of the sport and everyone lucky enough to have known him.”

Leicester helicopter crash
Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha (right) arrives with family members to lay a wreath (Mike Egerton/PA)

Police confirmed Mr Srivaddhanaprabha was killed, along with two staff members, the pilot and a passenger, when the aircraft fell from the sky and burst into flames outside the King Power Stadium at about 8.30pm on Saturday.

The four others are believed to be Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz.

Those visiting the scene on Monday included Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s wife Aimon Srivaddhanaprabha, Somyot Poompanmoung, president of the Thai FA, and Mr Poompanmoung’s wife, Potjaman Poompanmoung.

Tom Meighan, the lead singer of Leicester rock band Kasabian, said the helicopter crash was “like your worst nightmare”.

Tom Meighan
Tom Meighan paid tribute (Mike Egerton/PA)

The performer, at the scene on Monday to grieve with fellow supporters, said the death of the club’s owner was like “losing a member of your family”.

Speaking to the Press Association, Mr Meighan said: “At the minute I’m feeling pretty numb.

“The football world is numb, not just Leicester City. The whole world is in mourning.”

Tributes were also paid to the others on board.

Brighton College described former pupil Mr Swaffer as a “kind and popular” student.

Headmaster Richard Cairns said: “Eric was at Brighton College from 1979 to 1983 and fell in love with flying when, as a schoolboy cadet, he visited a Royal Navy ship flight deck.

“His contemporaries and teachers remember him as a kind and popular boy.”

The Polish embassy described Ms Lechowicz as “a wonderful pilot”.

A statement said: “It is with great sadness that we received news of the death of Izabela Lechowicz in the Leicester helicopter crash.

“She was a wonderful pilot and a #Polka100 campaign finalist who created a positive image of Poland in the UK. Our deepest condolences to her family.”

Izabela Lechowicz
Izabela Lechowicz died in the crash (Jadwiga Bronte/PA)

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) is carrying out an investigation into what caused the Agusta Westland AW169 helicopter to crash a few hours after the Foxes’ 1-1 result against West Ham.

It is believed to be the first accident involving an AW169 aircraft.

In a statement the AAIB said: “We recovered the digital flight data recorder  on Sunday afternoon and one of our inspectors travelled back to Farnborough with the recorder the same evening.

“Today, our inspectors in Farnborough will start working on the recorder, which was subject to intense heat as a result of the post-accident fire.

Duke of Cambridge
The Duke of Cambridge paid tribute after the crash (Ben Stansall/PA)

“Our inspectors are continuing to work with the police on site. We expect to be here until the end of the week.”

Hundreds of tributes have been left outside the ground, while a procession of people made their way to the front of the shrine to lay a wreath on Monday.

The group chanted as various tributes were added to those of fans, including candles and flowers.

The club will set up a book of condolence at the stadium from Tuesday for supporters to pay their respects, with an online version on its website for those unable to visit in person.

Supporters pay tribute at Leicester City Football Club
Supporters pay tribute at Leicester City Football Club (Aaron Chown/PA)

Leicester’s EFL Cup tie against Southampton and the development squad’s match against Feyenoord in the Premier League International Cup on Tuesday have both been postponed.

Witnesses said the helicopter seemed to spiral out of control moments after it set off from the pitch.

Mr Swaffer has been hailed a hero for steering the spinning aircraft away from crowds of people on the ground.

Rest In Peace my dear and always smiling friend, pilot #ericswaffer who died alongside his beloved girlfriend and co-pilot Izabela. They travelled the world together. Reports say he heroically steered the helicopter away from cars crowds outside the stadium. #kingpower#Leicesterpic.twitter.com/1fURWfg97W

— Lucie Morris-Marr (@luciemorrismarr) October 28, 2018

Players paid tribute on social media to Mr Srivaddhanaprabha, who became chairman of the club in 2011 and is known for arriving and leaving the stadium in his helicopter at home games.

Self-made Thai billionaire Mr Srivaddhanaprabha was very highly thought of in the city.

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.

He was also involved in charity work, donating £2 million towards a new children’s hospital.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Superintendent Steve Potter said it was likely to take several days to complete the investigation around the crash site.