Family, players pay tribute to Thai owner of Leicester City

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LEICESTER: The family of the late Thai billionaire boss of Premier League club Leicester City laid a wreath on Monday at the site where his helicopter crashed as investigators began examining the aircraft’s black box.

Dressed in black, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s son Aiyawatt and widow Aimon walked through a sea of tributes from fans outside the stadium, including flowers, football scarves and Buddhist statues.

Vichai’s son, known as “Top”, is chief executive of his father’s duty-free empire King Power and also vice-chairman of the football club Vichai bought in 2010.

Aiyawatt was later joined by the team, including striker Jamie Vardy, centre-back Harry Maguire and keeper Kasper Schmeichel, with the group pausing in reflection in front of the flowers.

“Struggling to find the right words, but to me you are a legend, an incredible man who had the biggest heart, the soul of Leicester City Football Club,” Vardy wrote on Instagram.

The team’s French manager Claude Puel also joined the mourners.

Vichai, 60, was among five people who died when the helicopter crashed in the stadium car park moments after taking off from the pitch following Saturday’s match.

The site is still cordoned off as investigators pick through the wreckage.

The government’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch said Monday it had recovered the helicopter’s digital flight data recorder, which was subject to “intense heat” in a fire.

“Today our inspectors… will start working on the recorder,” the AAIB, which is leading the inquiry, said in a statement.

The other victims included two members of Vichai’s staff, Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, pilot Eric Swaffer and the pilot’s girlfriend, Izabela Roza Lechowicz, also a pilot.

Nursara Suknamai was an actress and a runner-up in Miss Thailand Universe in 2005.

– Prince’s tribute –

Vichai, a regular at matches who used to fly to and from home games, was much-loved in the city as the driving force behind the club’s historic 2016 Premiership victory.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and Prince William, who is president of the Football Association, both offered their condolences.

“I was lucky to have known Vichai for several years. He was a businessman of strong values who was dedicated to his family and who supported a number of important charitable causes,” said William, the Duke of Cambridge.

“He made such a big contribution to football, not least through Leicester City’s magical 2016 season that captured the imagination of the world.

“He will be missed by all fans of the sport and everyone lucky enough to have known him.”

May said her thoughts were with the family and friends of the victims as well as supporters of the club.

“The outpouring of grief is a testament to how many people’s lives were touched by those on board,” she said in a statement.

Vichai bought Leicester City and became chairman in February 2011, pouring millions into the team and becoming a beloved figure in the club and the city — a feat rarely achieved by the Premier League’s foreign owners.

It was under Vichai’s ownership that Leicester crafted one of the biggest fairytales in English football history by winning the 2015/16 Premier League, having started the season as 5,000-1 outsiders for the title.

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