London : Leicester City’s Thai billionaire boss was among five people killed when his helicopter crashed and burst into flames in the Premier League side’s stadium car park moments after taking off from the pitch, the club said.
A stream of fans already fearing the worst, had laid out flowers, football scarves and Buddhist prayers outside the club’s King Power stadium after Saturday’s accident in tribute to Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the man they credit for an against-all-odds Premier League victory in 2016.
“The world has lost a great man,” the club said in a statement.
“Leicester City was a family under his leadership. It is as a family that we will grieve his passing and maintain the pursuit of a vision for the club that is now his legacy,” it said.
A book of condolence will be opened at the stadium from Tuesday and the team has postponed its upcoming League Cup fixture against Southampton.
“Everyone at the Club has been truly touched by the remarkable response of the football family, whose thoughtful messages of support and solidarity have been deeply appreciated at this difficult time,” the statement said.
Police named the four other victims as Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, two members of Vichai’s staff, pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz.
Vichai, 60, the owner of Thailand’s King Power duty-free empire, was a regular at matches who used to fly to and from home games.
The blue chopper took off from the middle of the pitch once the stadium had emptied after Saturday’s 1-1 draw with West Ham.
Eyewitnesses said the helicopter appeared to develop a mechanical problem in its rear propeller shortly after takeoff.
Images showed orange balls of flame engulfing the wreckage in the car park of the stadium where just two years ago Leicester celebrated the most unlikely of Premier League title triumphs.
“Struggling to find the right words….but to me you are legend, an incredible man who had the biggest heart, the soul of Leicester City Football Club,” Leicester striker Jamie Vardy, one of the heroes of that success, posted on Instagram.
“Thank you for everything you did for me, my family and our club. I will truly miss you…. may you rest in peace… #theboss”