Leicester City owner 'trusted the safety' of helicopter which crashed, says son

Archive photo of the crash helicopter Credit: PA Images

The owner of Leicester City Football Club killed in a helicopter crash would "never have risked his life in this machine" if he knew safety processes had not been taking place, according to his son.

Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and four others died when the Leonardo AW169 plummeted to the ground outside the club’s King Power Stadium on October 27 2018 shortly after taking off from the pitch.

A report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) stated the crash was caused by the pilot’s pedals becoming disconnected from the tail rotor as a component – a bearing – seized amid a build-up of pressure.

Investigators listed a series of contributory factors, such as Italian company Leonardo failing to share test flight results with the bearing manufacturer to confirm the type chosen was suitable for use in the aircraft.

Leicester City fans took part in a memorial walk in honour of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and four others who died in the crash Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

Leonardo also did not require routine inspections of bearings to confirm they were in the condition expected against their original design.

The AAIB stressed Leonardo did not need to take either of those actions under “regulatory requirements and guidance”.

Mr Vichai’s son, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, who became chairman of Leicester City after his father’s death, said: "I am deeply saddened by the course of events.

"Almost five years after my father’s passing, this report provides concerning evidence against Leonardo.

"My father trusted that he had bought a safe helicopter from a world-renowned manufacturer.

"Had he known what we know now he would never have risked his life in this machine.

He adds: "The pain this causes me and my family is immeasurable and, as a family, we continue to struggle every day with our grief at the loss of my father.

"He was a great inspiration to me personally and we all loved him very much."

A Leonardo spokeswoman said: “The AAIB has not directed any recommended actions to Leonardo.

“The AAIB final report rightly concludes that Leonardo complied with all regulatory requirements in both the design and manufacture of the AW169.”

The other people killed in the crash were: Leicester City employees Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare; and the pilot Eric Swaffer and his partner, Izabela Roza Lechowicz, who was also a professional pilot.

A statue of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was unveiled outside the King Power Stadium last year Credit: Nick Potts/PA

The AAIB’s 209-page report ruled out pilot error as a possible cause.

Litigation firm Stewarts said it has been retained by the families of Mr Vichai, Mr Swaffer and Ms Lechowicz.

Mr Vichai’s family are "considering their legal recourse against Leonardo" and "litigation has already been commenced in Italy" on behalf of the families of Mr Swaffer and Ms Lechowicz, it added.

Peter Neenan, a partner at Stewarts, described the report as “a frightening tale of missed opportunities” and claimed the crash was “an accident waiting to happen”.

Mr Swaffer’s mother, Deborah Sutton, said: “This, of course, is every mother’s worst nightmare and time is not healing.

“Eric and Izabela were an inseparable couple, devoted to each other and to their flying.

“Without them, there is an enormous hole in our lives. I think of them daily and miss them more than I can say.”

Ms Lechowicz’s sister, Kate Lechowicz, said: "My sister and Eric were such bright lights in my life, we shared many adventures, but they had so many more plans and dreams to accomplish.

“The outreach from friends across the aviation industry showed how they were respected, but the comments showed they were also well loved.

“Having recently bought their dream home, they were embarking on a new chapter in their lives – and were putting more time into animal welfare and other causes close to their hearts.”

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