Tearful Leicester City fans have gathered to lay flowers at the King Power Stadium after reports the club’s owner was on board a helicopter which crashed and burst into flames last Saturday night.
The helicopter – feared to have been carrying popular owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha – and two pilots crashed in the corner of a car park moments after taking off from the centre circle after a Premier League game on Saturday night.
Early reports said Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s daughter was on board with him at the time, although sources at Leicester FC have since denied this. The BBC has reported that a family source said the owner himself was on board.
Fans who gathered at the ground Sunday called it Leicester’s ‘darkest day’, paying tribute to the owner who helped them to a miracle Premier League triumph in 2016.
Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s helicopter was heading for Luton Airport where he was due to catch a flight to Thailand, Leicester sources said.
Witnesses have said the ‘engine stopped’ in the air before the helicopter plummeted to the ground at around 8.45pm.
A minute’s applause was held at Crystal Palace in solidarity with Leicester, and a minute’s silence at Burnley, even as fans did not yet know the outcome of the crash.
Outside the stadium Sunday, a sea of flowers and blue football scarves has grown as fans wait anxiously for news on the helicopter disaster.
Karen Kennell, 60, a primary school teacher from Leicester, said: ‘I was at the game on Saturday and I was at home when I heard the news just after half past eight.
‘He’s contributed so much to the club and the city, when he first came they were in dire straits and he brought them back up to what they are today.
‘Not so long I managed to shake his hand, he and the other members of the management team were in the club shop just shaking hands with people, that was just something that they did – it’s so so sad.’
Lifelong fan Tom Fall, 53, a civil servant from Leicester said: ‘I was at the game and I heard about it when I got home, it takes me about half an hour to get home and I was just getting something to eat.
I sat down and looked at the fans forum and someone had posted that the helicopter had crashed, I could not believe it.
‘OK so he was a businessman and many people like him take over clubs and would be quite aloof but its not been the case with him – he developed a real connection with the fans and the community and it’s ultimately led to us winning the league.
‘He’s left a permanent mark on the whole city not just the club. If he hadn’t come we would not have had so much success.
‘The way he’s managed things has led to a family atmosphere and people come to enjoy the family atmosphere at the club. I shook his hand in the club shop before the start of the game against Seville, in a pre-season friendly.’
The helicopter took off from the centre circle of the pitch with stadium staff and pundits looking on – but moments later it began to spin out of control in the air.
A police officer then rushed towards the wreckage belonging to the Leicester City owner.
The unnamed officer attempted to pull open the door, to save those inside, before an ‘explosion’ turned the wreckage into a fireball and forced the Leicestershire officer back.
It is not clear if there are any survivors after the aircraft belonging to billionaire chairman Mr Srivaddhanaprabha crashed just outside the car park.
Witnesses reported seeing the Augusta Westland AW-169 aircraft suffering engine trouble and spinning out of control shortly after it took off from the centre-circle.
The chairmam’s son, Aiyawatt ‘Top’ Srivaddanaprabha, also the club’s vice chairman is already in the UK from Thailand.
Despite claims one of the chairman’s two daughters was on the helicopter when it came down, it was later suggested his children were not with him.
His eldest child, Voramas, 36, works for King Power and had studied at a London university.
Another of the chairman’s children, Leicester’s vice-chairman Aiyawatt ‘Top’ Srivaddanaprabha, was not involved in the accident, it was claimed.
Leicester Director of Football John Rudkin was also safe, according to Sky sources.
Local fan Leo Brooker told BBC Radio 5 Live: ‘One of them was looking for something, I don’t know what he was looking for inside the car something to prevent the fire, I don’t know.
‘And the other man, the other one, he run straight away to the helicopter and he was trying to break the window of the helicopter with, I don’t know what he had in his hand, a big metal or… I couldn’t see ’cause it was too dark.
‘But one of the policeman was trying to break the window and trying to get in and the other one was inside the car looking for something and then the next minute I see the police officer he had a fire extinguisher trying to prevent the fire and I don’t know even I was still scared.
‘And then this was all going on five to 10 seconds and then there was an explosion and even the policeman and all the three or four other guys that were trying to help but they just pulled back because the fire was going too hot.’
It is understood emergency services spent twenty minutes attempting to extinguish the flames.
Initial reports had suggested Claude Puel may have been onboard, however, Gregory Campi, the AS Monaco Team 3 coach told Nice-Matin, this was not correct and the club’s manager was safe.
Mr Srivaddhanaprabha made his money in retail in Thailand and his King Power duty-free shops are in every airport in the Asian country.