Black box recovered as investigators in UK probe cause of Vichai crash

Bhuddhist monks stand in tribute after the club's owner Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, and four other people died when their helicopter crashed as it left the ground after the match on Saturday.
PHOTO: Reuters

Air accident investigators yesterday began the slow process of ascertaining the cause of the helicopter crash which took the lives of King Power chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and four other people at the weekend.

The sombre inquiry coincided with the opening of a book of condolences at Leicester City's King Power Stadium, where fans flocked to leave tributes to the man who transformed their club, their city and left them with possibly the greatest fairytale success story in the history of English football.

Investigators have already ruled out the presence of a police drone as the cause of the horrific accident in the club's car park. Leicestershire Police have handed over responsibility for the inquiry to the Department of Transport's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), which investigates all civil aircraft accidents in Britain.

Thai billionaire Vichai's family visits Leicester crash site

  • Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, son of Leicester City's owner Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, clasps his hands together as he stands infront of Jamie Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel amongst tributes left for Vichai and four other people who died when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed as it left the ground after the match on Saturday, in Leicester, Britain, October 29, 2018.
  • The family of the late Thai billionaire boss of Premier League club Leicester City paid tribute to him on Monday at the site where his helicopter crashed as investigators began examining the aircraft's black box.
  • Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha (right) and Aimon Srivaddhanaprabha, the son and wife of Leicester City's Thai chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha who died in a helicopter crash at the club's stadium, look at the floral tributes left to the victims of the crash.
  • Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha's son and widow were seen laying a wreath among a sea of tributes from fans outside the stadium, including flowers, football scarves and Buddhist statues.
  • Vichai's son Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, known as "Top", is chief executive of his father's duty-free empire King Power and also vice-chairman of the football club Vichai bought in 2010.
  • Along with other family members and executives from King Power, the two were also seen laying wreaths at the crash site in a car park near the stadium, which is still cordoned off as air accident investigators pick through the wreckage.
  • Five people died in Saturday's crash, including also two members of Vichai's staff, Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, pilot Eric Swaffer and the pilot's girlfriend, Izabela Roza Lechowicz, also a pilot.
  • Nursara Suknamai was an actress and a runner-up in Miss Thailand Universe in 2005.
  • The reins of King Power Group's multi-billion-baht business empire is now in the hands of 32-year-old Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha.
  • With his father gone, Aiyawatt has to take over as the CEO of King Power Group as well as chairman of the English Premier League football club Leicester City.
  • However, it remains unclear if Aiyawatt has his father's mettle, especially in terms of having a formidable wheeler-dealer attitude, even though he has been groomed over the past several years for these new challenges.
  • Fans laid down hundreds of football scarves, shirts and flowers outside Leicester City's stadium on Sunday, a day after the club's Thai billionaire owner died in a helicopter crash just outside the ground.
  • Fans streamed to the stadium to express their gratitude long before official confirmation that the 60-year-old businessman, who frequently flies to and from Leicester's home games by helicopter, was aboard the aircraft.
  • Four other people on the helicopter, including two members of Vichai's staff, were also killed in the crash.
  • Residents remembered a determined and charismatic figure who was the driving force behind a footballing feat when the club rose through the ranks to win the top spot two years ago.
  • Many also remembered the owner's generosity to fans -- free breakfasts at away matches and free beers on his birthday -- as well as to the city, including a donation to the local hospital.
  • Vichai also brought Thailand greater recognition in the international sporting world, developing the Southeast Asian country's football scene.
  • Kanti Patel, one of the first supporters to come to pay tribute in the early hours of Sunday, told AFP: "It means a lot to me, he did a lot for the club. "I can't get over it. Since him being with the club the club has done well, and I don't know what's going to happen now."
  • Another fan, Nathavut Sirimontaporn, said Vichai had brought "benefits" to Thai football. "I think having him as an owner of the Leicester City made people know Thailand more," he said.
  • A man kneels with a statue of the Buddha and devotional scripture in front of the floral tributes gathered outside Leicester City Football Club's King Power Stadium in Leicester, eastern England, on October 28, 2018
  • Pedestrians walk past a mural showing Leicester City Football Club's Thai chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha near De Montfort University in Leicester, eastern England, on October 28, 2018.

Police did, however, move to dispel talk that one of their drones had been involved. They said on their Twitter page that their drone had not been in flight when the helicopter left the stadium. "We have recovered the digital flight data recorder [voice and data] … and one of our inspectors travelled back to Farnborough with it the same evening," said the AAIB.

"Our inspectors … will today start working on the recorder, which was subject to intense heat as a result of the post-accident fire. "Our inspectors are continuing to work with the police on site. We expect to be here until the end of the week, at which point we will transport the wreckage to our specialist facilities in Farnborough for more detailed examination. In the meantime, we are still gathering evidence as part of our investigation."

The helicopter came down in a car park outside the ground about an hour after the end of a Premier League match. Police have named the other deceased as passengers Izabela Roza Lechowiczas, Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, plus pilot Eric Swaffer.

The Italian maker of the helicopter, Leonardo SpA, has already announced it is ready to assist the investigation.

Thousands of Leicester fans, as well as the club's players and members of Vichai's family, have already been to the ground to lay toys, scarves and wreaths in tribute to the beloved owner, who took over the club in 2010 and oversaw their incredible rise from the second tier to Premier League title winners in 2016. Leicester had been due to play a Cup match overnight but it was postponed and it is not yet certain that Sunday's Premier League game away to Cardiff will go ahead.