Tributes pour in for Thai tycoon who steered Leicester City to ‘fairytale’ win
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Tributes pour in for Thai tycoon who steered Leicester City to ‘fairytale’ win

MEMBERS and fans of English football team Leicester City have paid homage to the soccer club’s owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Thai billionaire who died in a tragic helicopter crash on Saturday.

Vichai was killed with four others shortly after leaving the King Power Stadium in Leicester, England, following the team’s 1-1 draw with West Ham United, when the helicopter carrying him suddenly plummeted to the ground and exploding within minutes after it took off.

The father of four and owner of King Power International, Thailand’s largest duty-free retailer, has been hailed as a hero among football fans after he bought the underperforming and debt-ridden central England team in 2010, in a purchase that paved the way to winning the Premier League title in 2016.

The title win was described as one of football’s greatest fairy tales after the team defeated the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea to become English champions.

SEE ALSO: Thailand celebrates Leicester City’s fairytale Premier League title win 

The retail magnate regularly flew by helicopter to attend home games.

Outside the stadium on Sunday, hundreds of fans laid flowers, football shirts and scarves outside to commemorate Vichai.

“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,” the club said in a statement on Sunday.

Police said the aircraft crashed in a car park near the stadium roughly an hour after the match. Other victims on board were believed to be members of his staff, Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, pilots Eric Swaffer and Izabela Roza Lechowicz, according to Reuters.

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Leicester City football fans pay their respects outside the football stadium, after the helicopter of the club owner Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha crashed when leaving the ground on Saturday evening after the match, in Leicester, Britain, Oct 28, 2018. Source: Reuters

The authorities said no one on the ground at the time was injured.

The announcement of Vichai’s death drew a slew of reactions from English Premier League managers players, and fans.

“Vichai was a gentleman who graced the game with his civility and charm, and we will miss him enormously. His impact on Leicester – the football club and city – will be remembered forever,” English Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore said.

On Twitter, Leicester City captain Wes Morgan said: “Absolutely heartbroken and devastated regarding the news of our chairman. A man that was loved and adored… . ”

“You changed football. Forever! You gave hope to everyone that the impossible was possible, not just to our fans but to fans all over the world in any sport!” Leicester City and Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said.

Leicester City and England defender Ben Chilwell, said: “I can’t believe it. I’m heartbroken to hear that no-one survived the crash yesterday. Vichai was one of the best people you could wish to meet, making you happy made him happy, he was always smiling and laughing. What he did for not just this football club but for Leicester as a city is incredible. He bought us all together.”

SEE ALSO: Thailand: EPL champs Leicester City FC make a victorious return to Bangkok  

“He’s put so much money into the club. He has brought the club up from receivership, put the money in, built the team, won the Premiership,” 68-year-old fan Richard Mobbs told Reuters.

Leicester City has remained in the major league ever since the 2016 title victory, which saw the billionaire buy a fleet of 19 BMW i8s – worth USD$135,000 each — for the team’s players.

Vichai founded King Power in 1989, and the company hit the jackpot when it won a concession to monopolise Suvarnabhumi International Airport by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2004. The company had earlier obtained the rights to operate in Don Mueang Airport in 1995.

With an estimated net worth of US$4.9 billion, Vichai was named the fifth-richest person in Thailand, according to Forbes magazine.