The helicopter of Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha crashed after the Premier League football match against West Ham on Saturday night, leading to fears there would be no survivors.
At around 8.38pm, an hour after the match finished, Srivaddhanaprabha’s helicopter took off from the King Power Stadium and then plunged down, eyewitnesses claim, before crashing in the car park near the south-east corner of the ground and erupting in a ball of flames.
While there was no official statement immediately forthcoming about who was on board, or their condition, the BBC reported a source close to the Srivaddhanaprabha family as saying the club’s 60-year-old chairman was in the helicopter. However, the news had yet to be confirmed early on Sunday.
Emergency services rushed to the scene and Leicester players and staff, including their goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, former Leicester and England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and distressed supporters were seen in tears as the fire raged near the car park.
It is understood that it took more than 20 minutes for the flames to be extinguished before emergency services were able to survey the wreckage.
There were unconfirmed reports the accident was a result of a mechanical failure but details were still scarce late on Saturday night.
It emerged on Sunday afternoon that the helicopter was heading for Luton airport, before it was scheduled to fly back to Srivaddhanaprabha’s native Thailand.
Leicester’s vice-chairman, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, who is the owner Vichai’s son, was not present at Saturday’s game and is now flying over from Thailand to meet with Leicester officials.
One eyewitness said: “The helicopter was hovering near the stadium roof after taking off and then it started to come down. There were flames everywhere, it was horrible to see it happen in front of us.”
Shilton’s wife, Stephanie, said: “We are both in shock on our way home. It happened straight in front of us as we were leaving the ground. We don’t know what has happened. It’s horrendous. We need to know if everyone is OK. That’s the biggest thing. We just hope that everyone got out OK.”
Leo Bruka, 27, who lives near the stadium, said he was driving home from work when he saw the helicopter falling.
“It was spinning very quickly. The helicopter didn’t fall in the [fans’] car park. It fell inside the territory of the stadium. The car park is very close,” he said.
“One of the policemen ran straight away to the helicopter and another got out a fire extinguisher. The first policeman was trying to break the glass of the helicopter, the window, then in this moment I saw a women in tears crying out loud because I think the helicopter just missed her, she was about 20 metres away.
“The fire just started and then there was an explosion. The policemen tried to calm down the fire. The police response was very quick. This all happened in less than one minute, then I could hear all the police coming around the stadium. They hadn’t left yet after the match. A policeman asked me to stop filming because someone was in the helicopter.”
Tim Acott, a Leicester season ticket-holder, said: “It just came out of the stadium already spinning, then down to the ground. Just in a spiral. It hit the ground with a big bang then burst into flames. It’s over on the other side of the car park, I don’t think there were people there. I’m shaking like anything.”
Srivaddhanaprabha, a father of four who owns the Thai duty free company King Power, travels to every home game in his private helicopter and frequently takes off from the pitch’s centre-circle after games to return to his Berkshire base. But on this occasion the take-off has ended in a tragedy, with Leicester unable to confirm on Saturday whether there were casualties.
Pete Ripley, associate director of operations, East Midlands Ambulance Service, said: “We received a call at 8.38pm on 27 October to reports of a helicopter crash in the car park of King Power Stadium in Leicester.
“We have sent a doctor in a car, two paramedics in ambulance cars, a crewed ambulance and our Hazardous Area Response Team, with the first resource arriving within two minutes of the call. We are currently working with our colleagues in Leicestershire Police and Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service at the scene. We advise members of the public to stay away from the area while we deal with this incident.'
Harry Maguire and Ndidi Wilfred, both of whom played in the 1-1 draw with West Ham, tweeted messages of support on social media with emojis of praying hands.