It was a moment broadcast live on air as BT Sport host Jake Humprey watched on from his press box shortly after the executive helicopter took off from the stadium behind him.
After quipping about the wealth of the Leicester club’s owner, the broadcast switched to a short clip. When it returned, viewers were greeted by the reporter’s shocked face.
He and his guests had heard the bang in their glass-enclosed studio.
The chopper they had just watched lift off from the stadium had flown just 200m before nosediving into the ground.
Humphrey said: “Things have taken a very sad turn in the last few moments …
“We’ve just seen the Leicester City owner’s helicopter take off from the centre circle here at Leicester City.
“It’s something that is a very regular feature for us. We often sit here after the games and see the helicopter take off, make remarks about owning a football club and flying in a helicopter.
“However, it’s suddenly got very serious because the helicopter that took off from here just about five minutes ago while we were live on air … has crashed.
“It’s crashed in the club car park just outside the window here. We were on air, we heard a commotion …”
A Sky Sports cameraman who witnessed the crash says he saw the helicopter suddenly start spinning shortly after takeoff. Then, the pilot ‘seemed to manage to slow down the spinning rotation and it drifted off into the corner part of the car park’.
It had avoided the last of the crowd streaming out of the stadium.
“I heard the helicopter coming out of the stadium, saw it as you do, they are amazing pieces of machinery and then I just carried on walking thinking next time I look up it is going to be overhead,” Sky Sports cameraman Dan Cox said.
“The next thing I just looked up and it was just spinning, static just out of control, just a constant spinning, I have never seen anything like it.”
With his heart in his mouth, he saw the helicopter change direction.
“I don’t know how the pilot did it but he seemed to manage to slow down the spinning rotation and it drifted off into the corner part of the car park. To my mind the pilot was heroic … “It could have been so much worse if the pilot hadn’t done that.”
Aerial footage in daylight showed the charred remains of the AW169 helicopter with part of the wreckage covered by a tarpaulin. Investigators continue to examined the wreckage as hundreds of fans bring tributes to the stadium.
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the team’s owner of eight years, was on board with four others, none of whom were his family members, a person close to the investigation told AP. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to release details of the passengers. There was no official word on casualties from yesterday’s crash.
The 60-year-old Vichai, who owns Thai duty-free retail giant King Power, is known for arriving and leaving the stadium in central England in his helicopter and it became one of the defining scenes of the club’s improbable run to the Premier League title in 2016.
After yesterday’s game against West Ham, the helicopter took off from the centre circle on the field and cleared the stadium roof before plummeting to the ground in an adjacent carpark in a ball of flames.
With fans fearing the worst, a makeshift shrine formed outside the stadium named after Vichai’s King Power company. Among the hundreds of visitors was a group of young footballers from Thailand on a trip to England who knelt on the ground and bowed their heads in front of the carpet of tributes. “Without you the dream wouldn’t have become reality,” read one message on a club flag on the spot where fans gathered two years ago to celebrate the team’s first English title in its 134-year existence.
Vichai, who is said by Forbes to be the fifth-richest person in Thailand, bought Leicester in 2010 and provided the funds that helped the team beat odds of 5000-1 to collect the trophy.
Lifelong supporter Ian Hubber wrote a message on a hat commemorating the title win to place among the flowers.
“That was a dream,” the 59-year-old Hubber said. “This is a nightmare.”
The outpouring of emotion at the stadium reflected how highly the ownership is regarded in the city, which has only one professional soccer team. Vichai has formed a close bond with the fans, sometimes mingling with them at games, in contrast to some Premier League owners who maintain a distance. Vichai has been praised for his charity work, donating $3.5 million toward a new local children’s hospital, and he often provides free beer and food for fans outside stadiums.
“They’ve brought so much to the club, and given the fans so much to like them for,” said Ian Bason, chairman of the Foxes Trust supporters’ group. “And not just that, because they’ve also invested in the local hospitals too. So they’ve done things well outside what most football club owners would do.” By accomplishing one of the greatest underdog stories in the history of sports, Leicester gained new fans in Thailand.
“It’s Thailand’s team,” soccer fan Chatworachet Sae-Kow said in Bangkok. “It brought fame to Thailand when they won (the title). He carried the Thai flag with him and made people know more about Thailand, so I felt sad.” Leicestershire Police has said the Air Accidents Investigation Branch was leading the investigation into the crash at the site which is sealed off by a cordon.
Leicester’s next game, which was scheduled for Tuesday against Southampton in the League Cup, is likely to be postponed. The women’s team game against Manchester United was called off.