Leicester City owner's son says he 'would never have risked his life'

Son of Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha killed in crash says his father ‘would never have risked his life’ if he knew craft was not safe and ‘trusted he bought a safe helicopter from a world-renowned manufacturer’

The son of Leicester City Football Club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha says his father ‘would never have risked his life’ if he knew the aircraft in which he met his death was not safe.

The Thai billionaire was killed in the horrifying crash in October 2018 which also claimed the lives of employees Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, as well as co-pilots Eric Swaffer and his girlfriend Izabela Roza Lechowicz.

Shortly after taking off from the pitch, the Leonardo AW169 helicopter reached an altitude of approximately 430ft before plummeting to the ground, despite the best efforts of its highly experienced pilot.

Four of the five on board survived the initial impact, but none made it out alive after the helicopter was engulfed by flames within a minute after the crash led to a major fuel leak. 

The Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) released its comprehensive report into the crash – raising serious concerns about the aircraft’s safety and the actions of its manufacturer Leonardo.

Vichai’s son Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha 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. Had he known what we know now he would never have risked his life in this machine.’

The helicopter belonging to Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha crashed outside the King Power Stadium on October 27, 2018

Leicester City CEO Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (pictured) was killed in the October 2018 crash. His son Aiyawatt said his father would never have flown in the aircraft if he had any inkling it was not safe 

Leicester City fans left thousands of tributes to Mr Srivaddhanaprabha, who was widely credited with helping to turn the club’s fortunes around

Kaveporn Punpare (left) was an assistant to Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and perished in the doomed flight, alongside his colleague Nusara Suknamai, right, a former beauty queen who worked for the billionaire


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The AAIB inquiry found that the control system failed because a bearing in the tail rotor broke up due to its ceramic balls sliding rather than rolling, due to a build-up of pressure.

Asked if this was ‘an accident waiting to happen’, Adrian Cope, AAIB senior inspector for engineering told reporters: ‘It was a process which built up continuously.

‘The damage in that bearing built up over a period of time.’

Inspection of the bearing was only required once it has been used for 400 hours, but the helicopter had only been flown for 331 hours when the accident happened.

One of the ‘contributory factors’ for the crash was that regulations do not require maintenance checks to review the condition of used bearings against their original design, the AAIB said.

The 209-page report ruled out drone involvement and pilot error.

The families of three of those lost in the crash – Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Eric Swaffer, and Izabela Lechowicz – have are seeking legal action, represented by specialists Stewarts.

Deborah Sutton, mother of Eric Swaffer, said: ‘This of course is every mother’s worse nightmare and time is not healing. Eric and Izabela were an inseparable couple, devoted to each other and to their flying.

Pilot Eric Swaffer, 53, said: ‘I’ve no idea what’s going on’ as the aircraft turned out of control. Pictured in the cockpit with girlfriend Izabela Roza Lechowicz on a previous trip

Professional pilot Izabela Roza Lechowicz, 46, who was killed in the helicopter crash near Leicester City Football Club

The pilots managed to steer the aircraft away from cars despite the fact it was spinning out of control and smashed into the ground on an industrial estate (circled) away from huge crowds

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

Kate Lechowicz, sister of Izabela Lechowicz, added: ‘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. 

‘Specifically, there were very excited to be meeting their nephew, my son – Theo Eric, who was born the day after their funeral and whom we named after his unmet uncle. 

‘Nothing fills the hole they leave; my only consolation is that even now they fly high together. Forever missed, forever loved.’

Stewarts stated: ‘Eric and Izabela were life partners and soulmates. Both were recognised and highly respected throughout the global aviation industry for their exemplary piloting skills. 

‘[They] were also qualified instructors and examiners on a range of aircraft. Eric spent most of his career lobbying and advising on matters of safety in the rotary wing industry. 

The Leonardo AW169 helicopter reached an altitude of approximately 430ft before plummeting to the ground. Pictured: The remains of the helicopter

CCTV captured moment Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s helicopter crashed seconds after take-off before crashing and killing all five passengers

The aircraft smashed into a concrete step, causing a fuel leak which sparked a fireball 

‘This report confirms beyond any doubt that there was nothing either Eric or Izabela could have done to prevent this disaster.’

Eric Swaffer and his co-pilot girlfriend Lechowicz incredibly managed to avoid many more deaths in the disaster as they performed every emergency action as they were meant to.

The hero pilot ‘performed the most appropriate actions’, which included raising a lever to reduce the helicopter’s pitch angle to cushion the impact, the AAIB said. 

But tragically, the aircraft smashed into a concrete step, causing a fuel leak which sparked a fireball.

While one of the five on board – who included former beauty queen Suknamai and Mr Vichai’s assistant Punpare – is believed to have been killed on impact, the others did not die instantly.

The remaining four lost their lives to smoke inhalation as the fire raged, the AAIB found. 

Injuries sustained by the victims combined with the way the aircraft landed, on its left side, meant there is no way they would have been able to escape without assistance, it was found.

The crash happened after the pilot’s pedals became disconnected from the tail rotor, investigators said, resulting in the aircraft making a sharp right turn which was ‘impossible’ to control.

Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (pictured), employees Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, Mr Swaffer and his partner, Izabela Roza Lechowicz were all killed

The crash occurred around an hour after a Premier League match between Leicester City and West Ham United

Emergency services outside the King Power Stadium after the helicopter crashed in a car park

Emotional star players including Jamie Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel were visibly moved as they went to the shrine outside the King Power with Mr Vichai’s son (left)

Tributes poured in for Mr Vichai after news of the tycoon’s death emerged, with fans flocking to the King Power stadium to leave flowers and pay their respects 

Supporters are pictured paying tribute at Leicester City’s King Power stadium today as they wait desperately for news following owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s helicopter crashing outside the ground in the club car park last night  

(From L-R) Leicester City Executive Director Apichet Srivaddhanaprabha, Arunrung, Voramas, Mrs Aimon Srivaddhanaprabha, Leciester City Director of Football Jon Rudkin, Leciester City Vice-Chairman Khun Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha and Leicester City Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha

Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha waves to fans after a Premier League clash between Leicester City and Southampton in April 2016

The AAIB described this as ‘a catastrophic failure’, causing the helicopter to spin quickly, approximately five times in 14 seconds.

As the helicopter was turning out of control, a shout of: ‘Hey, hey, hey!’ came from the rear cabin, where Mr Vichai and his employees were seated, the AAIB said.

Mr Swaffer, who had more than 13,000 flying hours under his belt, responded by saying: ‘I’ve no idea what’s going on’ and ‘uttered an exclamation’, according to the report.

The crash occurred around an hour after a Premier League match between the Foxes and West Ham United.

Peter Neenan, a partner in the aviation team at Stewarts, commented: ‘This report is a frightening tale of missed opportunities.

‘The report confirms that the helicopter manufacturer, Leonardo, did not accurately model the forces affecting the helicopter during their design…

‘Leonardo had recognised that the duplex bearing was a critical component, and that the failure of this component could be catastrophic for the helicopter and likely to result in the death of those onboard.

‘Nevertheless, and despite that concerning warning, they then also did not implement sufficient mitigation measures… This was an accident waiting to happen.’

A statue of Mr Vichai was unveiled at the stadium in April last year in his honour

An image of the Leicester City chairman, who died in the Leicester City helicopter accident, on the big screen as he was remembered before the Premier League match away to Cardiff

A dedication to the the Leicester chairman was written in the Cardiff City’s matchday programme from the Welsh club’s Malaysian owner, Vincent Tan, and the board of directors

Leicester players and staff observed a minute’s silence as they stood around the centre circle

Supporters pay tribute outside the stadium to Leicester chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha

‘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 told reporters in 2018: ‘I was at yesterday’s 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.’

Cliff Ginnetta, chairman of the Supporters’ Club, said: ‘This has shaken everyone to the core. He was the boss, he was part of the fabric.’ 

Leonardo stated it continues to run a fleet of 150 AW169s in over 30 countries, none of which have been subject to grounding restrictions.

A Leonardo spokesman said: ‘[We]together with other relevant parties, has been working with the AAIB since the date of the accident, in our capacity as the aircraft manufacturer and in line with our overriding objective of flight safety, to try and identify the cause of the accident. 

‘Leonardo has adopted additional, precautionary inspection and part replacement measures which were neither requested nor required by the relevant authorities. Leonardo remains committed to maintaining and continuously improving our safety procedures as well as those of our component part manufacturers.

‘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.

The Final Report also recognises that Leonardo’s immediate actions after the accident, such as the implementation of additional safety checks, which were later adopted by EASA as mandatory Special Bulletins, have ensured that the global fleet of AW169s have continued to operate safely.

‘It is important to note that that the substantial work undertaken in five years of analysis, data gathering, investigation and tests of the AAIB’s investigation has been able to identify only a ‘likely’ cause of the failure. 

‘We have, together with the Agenzia Nazionale per la Sicurezza del Volo (ANSV), the Italian civil aviation safety investigation authority, made submissions to the AAIB and raised a number of additional points in respect of certain matters. We fully support the ANSV’s comments in this regard.

‘The AW169 helicopter was designed and manufactured according to the latest safety standards. It operates in some of the toughest climates and conditions worldwide, in some of the most challenging operations including search and rescue, medical evacuation and fire-fighting, and is trusted by governments, commercial entities, and VIPs. We remain committed to maintaining and improving our safety and procedures as well as those of our component part manufacturers.’

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