Soccer team owner’s fate unclear after helicopter crash

LEICESTER, England (AP) — Soccer jerseys, flags and flowers were laid by tearful fans on Sunday at Leicester City’s stadium where investigators were examining the remains of a helicopter belonging to the English Premier League club’s owner which crashed in flames after the previous night’s game.

No details have been provided by the team about the identities of any passengers or their fate amid reports the Thai billionaire owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, was on board. Aerial footage in daylight showed the charred remains of the helicopter with part of the wreckage covered by a tarpaulin.

The 60-year-old Vichai, who owns Thai duty-free retail giant King Power, is known for arriving and leaving the stadium in central England in his helicopter and it became one of the defining scenes of the club’s improbable run to the Premier League title in 2016.

After Saturday’s game against West Ham, the helicopter took off from the center circle on the field and cleared the stadium roof before plummeting to the ground in an adjacent carpark in a ball of flames.

With fans fearing the worst, a makeshift shrine formed from early Sunday outside the stadium named after Vichai’s King Power company. A large image of the Hindu god Ganesh was propped up among the flowers and a carpet of tributes to the owner formed.

“With you the dream wouldn’t have become reality,” read one message on a club flag on the spot where fans gathered two years ago to celebrate the team’s first English title in its 134-year existence.

Vichai, who is said by Forbes to be the fifth-richest person in Thailand, bought Leicester in 2010 and provided the funds that helped the team beat odds of 5,000-1 to collect the trophy.

The family is highly respected in the city and has formed a close bond with the fans, sometimes mingling with them at games. Vichai has been praised for his charity work, donating 2 million pounds ($2.5 million) toward a new local children’s hospital.

“They’ve brought so much to the club, and given the fans so much to like them for,” said Ian Bason, chairman of the Foxes Trust supporters’ group. “And not just that, because they’ve also invested in the local hospitals too. So they’ve done things well outside what most football club owners would do.”

By accomplishing one of the greatest underdog stories in the history of sports, Leicester gained new fans in Thailand.

“It’s Thailand’s team,” soccer fan Chatworachet Sae-Kow said in Bangkok. “It brought fame to Thailand when they won (the title). He carried the Thai flag with him and made people know more about Thailand, so I felt sad.”

Leicestershire Police has said the Air Accidents Investigation Branch was leading the investigation into the crash at the site which is sealed off by a cordon.

A Women’s Championship clash between Leicester and Manchester United scheduled to be played at the King Power Stadium on Sunday was called off. The ladies reserve league match against Derby was also postponed.


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