Leicester City: Club owner’s helicopter crashes after match

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TOPSHOT - Smoke rises from the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed in a car park outside Leicester City Football Club's King Power Stadium in Leicester, eastern England, on October 27, 2018. - A helicopter on Saturday crashed near the football stadium in the central UK city of Leicester, police said. The crash took place hours after Leicester drew 1-1 with West Ham in a Premier League match at the King Power Stadium. Sky Sports broadcast pictures of what it said was the helicopter in flames, reporting it belonged to Leicester City Football Club's Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Leicester City fans are waiting to find out if the club’s beloved owner was on board his helicopter that burst into flames after crashing in a parking lot next to the club’s King Power Stadium in Leicester, England.

Statements from the English Premier League club and Leicester police have not revealed whether Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, 60, was on board the aircraft.

“We are working with a number of other agencies to get an update out to the public and press. Thank you for your patience and all your messages of support,” tweeted Leicester police Sunday.

Srivaddhanaprabha regularly took off from the pitch’s center circle en route back to his home in back to his home in Berkshire, southern England following Leicester’s games at the King Power Stadium.

The crash occurred about an hour after Leicester City’s match against West Ham Saturday night. Witnesses said the helicopter had barely cleared the 25 meter (82 foot) high stadium walls before making a loud noise, crashing to the ground and igniting a large fireball.

Distraught fans have begun to set up a makeshift memorial for the owner, even before official confirmation that he was on board the flight.

As day broke Sunday a shirt adorned with the badges of Leicester City and Oud-Heverlee Leuven — the Belgian second-division team also owned by Srivaddhanaprabha — was propped up against the King Power Stadium, along with a framed picture of the Hindu deity Ganesh and a handful of flowers.

Leicester fan Lee Chappy told CNN that he was near the parking lot just 20 minutes before the crash.

He said that he was “gutted” that Srivaddhanaprabha may be dead. “I’m absolutely shocked. In disbelief,” he wrote in a Twitter direct message.

“He has changed the landscape of the city … turned it back into a true family of football-loving believers,” Chappy said. “I’m just lost how to feel, it’s going to be really tough here for Leicester fans.”

Police confirm ‘major incident’

Leicester City released a short statement confirming that a “major incident” had occurred near the stadium, and that it was assisting police.

“We are assisting Leicestershire Police and the emergency services in dealing with a major incident at King Power Stadium,” the published statement said.

“The Club will issue a more detailed statement once further information has been established.”

Leicestershire Police said they are investigating the incident, as images and video spread online of flames leaping from the crash site.

“Emergency services are currently at the King Power Stadium where an aircraft came down in a car park behind the ground,” Leicestershire Police tweeted. “Enquiries to establish the exact circumstances of the collision are ongoing.”

The UK government’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) published a statement that it would be sending a “team of inspectors” to the stadium to investigate the crash.

British media reported that witnesses saw the helicopter struggling in the air before it fell.

“I hope they’re OK,” one witness told Sky News. “Doesn’t seem like they have had much of a chance. Just burst into flames.”

Fairytale run

Srivaddhanaprabha bought the club for $57 million in 2010 and it was promoted to the Premier League in 2014. In 2016, the club achieved the once-unthinkable feat of winning the premiership.

It went into the 2015-2016 season with odds of 5000-1 to win but stunned fans, and bookmakers, by taking the title.

The club’s extraordinary run of success has played out under Srivaddhanaprabha’s ownership. Along with handing fans their first top-flight title in the club’s history, the businessman has won over fans by handing out free beer, water and cupcakes, as well as scarves in cold weather, in the stands.

His helicopter was a familiar sight at the Leicester stadium, landing in the middle of the ground to ferry its owner to and from home games.

The Thai is No. 388 on the Forbes’ billionaires list, with a net worth of $4.9 billion. He made his fortune through the creation of the King Power chain of duty-free stores, Thailand’s largest. Srivaddhanaprabha’s company sponsors the team’s stadium.

The crash occurred about one hour after Leicester City drew 1-1 against West Ham United on Saturday night.

Several Leicester players tweeted their condolences. Striker Jamie Vardy and defender Harry Maguire tweeted the “praying hands” emoji.

Soon after the match ended, West Ham tweeted: “The thoughts of all at West Ham United are with everybody at Leicester City at this time.”

Some of its players also extended their sympathies. Defender Pablo Zabaleta said: “My thoughts and prayers are with all those involved in the helicopter accident at Leicester City.”

“Horrendous scenes at the king power tonight, my prayers & thoughts go out to everyone involved at Leicester,” said his teammate, Declan Rice.

Broadcaster and former Leicester City player Gary Lineker also tweeted, saying that his emotion made hosting the BBC’s flagship football show Match of the Day difficult.

“That was the most difficult @BBCMOTD I’ve ever hosted,” he said in the post. “Thoughts are with everyone at Leicester City. A terrible tragedy. Heartbreaking.”

Premier League club Arsenal tweeted: “We’re saddened by tonight’s incident and we’re all thinking of you at this difficult time.”

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