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Leicester City Football Club confirms death of owner in helicopter crash

Leicester City Football Club has confirmed the death of Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.

“It is with the deepest regret and a collective broken heart that we confirm our chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, was among those to have tragically lost their lives on Saturday evening when a helicopter carrying him and four other people crashed outside King Power Stadium. None of the five people on-board survived,” the club said on Sunday.

The statement described the chairman as a “a man of kindness, of generosity and a man whose life was defined by the love he devoted to his family and those he so successfully led.”

The club said a book of condolences will be opened at the King Power Stadium starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday, October 30.

Srivaddhanaprabha regularly took off from the pitch’s center circle en route back to his homes either in London or in Berkshire, southern England following Leicester’s games at the King Power Stadium.

The crash occurred about an hour after Leicester City’s match against West Ham Saturday night. Witnesses said the helicopter had barely cleared the 25 meter (82 foot) high stadium walls before making a loud noise, crashing to the ground and igniting a large fireball.

Distraught fans have begun to set up a makeshift memorial for the owner, even before official confirmation that he was on board the flight.

As day broke Sunday a shirt adorned with the badges of Leicester City and Oud-Heverlee Leuven — the Belgian second-division team also owned by Srivaddhanaprabha — was propped up against the King Power Stadium, along with a framed picture of the Hindu deity Ganesh and a handful of flowers.

On a bitterly cold day, people of all ages — some pushing babies in pushchairs — flocked to the stadium to lay scarves, flowers and even Buddha statues outside the ground.

Those scarves weren’t just the blue and white of Leicester City. There were West Ham, Liverpool and Aston Villa scarves as well as a Sporting Lisbon one.

“We witnessed a miracle, said Leicester fan Sam Tewley, 31, as he reflected on the unlikelihood of Leicester winning the Premier League in 2016 under Srivaddhanaprabha’s ownership.

Srivaddhanaprabha had donated $2.5 million to Leicester’s hospitals and that always goes “down well with the community,” Tewley told CNN.

“He has brought the city together … created more jobs. He did something to this city that changed the mindset. Walking around the town center in 2016 everyone was so happy.”

Russell Bentley, who works as a volunteer for the The Street Pastors initiative, had arrived late morning to help the congregating supporters and said he would stay at the stadium until he “wasn’t needed anymore.”

“It looked touch and go for Leicester City at one stage,” Bentley told CNN of what Srivaddhanaprabha had done for the team. “The club was in administration and he came in, bought it all, paid off all the debts. Not just took it over because it was a cash cow, but because he wanted to be part of the Leicester support.”

Police confirm ‘major incident’

Leicester City released a short statement confirming that a “major incident” had occurred near the stadium, and that it was assisting police.

Leicestershire Police has set up a cordon at the end of the stadium where the crash took place and said they were investigating the incident, as images and video spread online of flames leaping from the crash site.

“Emergency services are currently at the King Power Stadium where an aircraft came down in a car park behind the ground,” Leicestershire Police tweeted. “Enquiries to establish the exact circumstances of the collision are ongoing.”

The UK government’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) published a statement that it would be sending a “team of inspectors” to the stadium to investigate the crash.

Fairytale run

Srivaddhanaprabha bought the club for $57 million in 2010 and it was promoted to the Premier League in 2014. In 2016, the club achieved the once-unthinkable feat of winning the premiership.

It went into the 2015-2016 season with odds of 5000-1 to win but stunned fans, and bookmakers, by taking the title.

The club’s extraordinary run of success has played out under Srivaddhanaprabha’s ownership. Along with handing fans their first top-flight title in the club’s history, the businessman has won over fans by handing out free beer, water and cupcakes, as well as scarves in cold weather, in the stands.

His helicopter was a familiar sight at the Leicester stadium, landing in the middle of the ground to ferry its owner to and from home games.

The Thai is No. 388 on the Forbes’ billionaires list, with a net worth of $4.9 billion. He made his fortune through the creation of the King Power chain of duty-free stores, Thailand’s largest. Srivaddhanaprabha’s company sponsors the team’s stadium.

The crash occurred about one hour after Leicester City drew 1-1 against West Ham United on Saturday night.

Several Leicester players tweeted their condolences. Striker Jamie Vardy and defender Harry Maguire tweeted the “praying hands” emoji.

Soon after the match ended, West Ham tweeted: “The thoughts of all at West Ham United are with everybody at Leicester City at this time.”

Some of its players also extended their sympathies. Defender Pablo Zabaleta said: “My thoughts and prayers are with all those involved in the helicopter accident at Leicester City.”

“Horrendous scenes at the king power tonight, my prayers & thoughts go out to everyone involved at Leicester,” said his teammate, Declan Rice.

Broadcaster and former Leicester City player Gary Lineker also tweeted, saying that his emotion made hosting the BBC’s flagship football show Match of the Day difficult.

“That was the most difficult @BBCMOTD I’ve ever hosted,” he said in the post. “Thoughts are with everyone at Leicester City. A terrible tragedy. Heartbreaking.”

Premier League club Arsenal tweeted: “We’re saddened by tonight’s incident and we’re all thinking of you at this difficult time.”