Leicester owner ‘trusted the safety' of helicopter which crashed, says son

An archive image of the helicopter which crashed (Mike Egerton/PA)
Neil Lancefield, PA Transport Correspondent

Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who was killed in a 2018 helicopter crash, would “never have risked his life in this machine” if he knew safety processes had not been taking place, according to his son.

Mr Vichai and four others died when the Leonardo AW169 plummeted to the ground outside the club’s King Power Stadium on October 27, 2018, shortly after taking off from the pitch.

A report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) stated that the crash was caused by the pilot’s pedals becoming disconnected from the tail rotor as a component – a bearing – seized amid a build-up of pressure.

Investigators listed a series of contributory factors, such as Italian company Leonardo failing to share test flight results with the bearing manufacturer to confirm the type chosen was suitable for use in the aircraft.

Leicester helicopter crash tribute
Leicester fans took part in a memorial walk in honour of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and four others who died in the crash (Aaron Chown/PA)

Leonardo also did not require routine inspections of bearings to confirm they were in the condition expected against their original design.

The AAIB stressed that Leonardo did not need to take either of those actions under “regulatory requirements and guidance”.

Mr Vichai’s son, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, who became Leicester chairman after his father’s death, said: “I am deeply saddened by the course of events.

“Almost five years after my father’s passing, this report provides concerning evidence against Leonardo.

“My father trusted that he had bought a safe helicopter from a world-renowned manufacturer.

Statue at Leicester City
A statue of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was unveiled outside the King Power Stadium last year (Nick Potts/PA)

“Had he known what we know now he would never have risked his life in this machine.

“The pain this causes me and my family is immeasurable and, as a family, we continue to struggle every day with our grief at the loss of my father.

“He was a great inspiration to me personally and we all loved him very much.”

A Leonardo spokeswoman said: “The AAIB has not directed any recommended actions to Leonardo.

“The AAIB final report rightly concludes that Leonardo complied with all regulatory requirements in both the design and manufacture of the AW169.”

Leicester helicopter crash
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was one of five people killed in the October 2018 crash (Adam Davy/PA)

The other people killed in the crash were Leicester employees Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, pilot Eric Swaffer and his partner Izabela Roza Lechowicz, who was also a professional pilot.

The AAIB’s 209-page report ruled out pilot error as a possible cause.

Litigation firm Stewarts said it has been retained by the families of Mr Vichai, Mr Swaffer and Ms Lechowicz.

Mr Vichai’s family are “considering their legal recourse against Leonardo” and “litigation has already been commenced in Italy” on behalf of the families of Mr Swaffer and Ms Lechowicz, it added.

Peter Neenan, a partner at Stewarts, described the report as “a frightening tale of missed opportunities” and claimed the crash was “an accident waiting to happen”.

Leicester helicopter crash
Young fans paying their respects at the King Power Stadium in the aftermath of the crash (Nigel French/PA)

Mr Swaffer’s mother, Deborah Sutton, said: “This, of course, is every mother’s worst nightmare and time is not healing.

“Eric and Izabela were an inseparable couple, devoted to each other and to their flying.

“Without them, there is an enormous hole in our lives. I think of them daily and miss them more than I can say.”

Ms Lechowicz’s sister, Kate Lechowicz, said: “My sister and Eric were such bright lights in my life, we shared many adventures, but they had so many more plans and dreams to accomplish.

“The outreach from friends across the aviation industry showed how they were respected, but the comments showed they were also well loved.

“Having recently bought their dream home, they were embarking on a new chapter in their lives – and were putting more time into animal welfare and other causes close to their hearts.”

In a statement issued on Wednesday morning, Foxes chief executive Susan Whelan said: “We commend the extensive and detailed body of work undertaken by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch and welcome the publication of its report, in the hope it will contribute positively to the continued development of future aviation standards and safety.

“The tragic events of 27 October, 2018, will forever be etched into the memory of the Leicester City family. It was a night we experienced the devastating loss of our beloved chairman, friends, colleagues, and family members.

“Yet, in our grief, a sense of unity and strength was forged. The extraordinary support and kindness that was extended to those affected, by communities across Leicestershire, football and the wider world will never be forgotten.

“As we near the fifth anniversary of the accident, the families and loved ones of Khun Vichai, Kaveporn, Nusara, Eric and Izabela remain always in our thoughts, as those we lost remain always in our hearts.”