Thai billionaire's family visit Leicester crash site

Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha (R) and Aimon Srivaddhanaprabha (2R), the son and wife of Leicester City's Thai chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha who died in a helicopter crash at the club's stadium.
PHOTO: AFP

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.

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.

Air accident investigators also on Monday said they had recovered the helicopter's digital flight data recorder, which was subject to "intense heat" in a fire after the crash.

"Today our inspectors.. will start working on the recorder," the Air Accidents Investigation Branch said in a statement. 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.

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.

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. Vichai, 60, a regular at matches who used to fly to and from home games, was much-loved in the city as the driving force behind the club's historic 2016 Premiership victory.

His blue helicopter took off from the pitch after the stadium emptied following Saturday's 1-1 draw with West Ham, but crashed moments later in the car park.

Earlier British Prime Minister Theresa May and Prince William, who is president of the Football Association, offered their condolences over the crash.

"I was lucky to have known Vichai for several years. He was a businessman of strong values who was dedicated to his family and who supported a number of important charitable causes," said William, the Duke of Cambridge. "He made such a big contribution to football, not least through Leicester City's magical 2016 season that captured the imagination of the world."

"He will be missed by all fans of the sport and everyone lucky enough to have known him." May said her thoughts were with the family and friends of the victims as well as supporters of the club. "The outpouring of grief is a testament to how many people's lives were touched by those on board," she said in a statement.

Vichai bought Leicester City in 2010 and became chairman the following February, pouring millions into the team and becoming a beloved figure in the club and the city -- a feat rarely achieved by the Premier League's foreign owners. It was under Vichai's ownership that Leicester crafted one of the biggest fairytales in English football history by winning the 2015/16 Premier League, having started the season as 5,000-1 outsiders for the title.