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English Soccer Team Owner’s Helicopter Crashes After Game

MANCHESTER, England — A helicopter belonging to the owner of Leicester City, the English Premier League soccer club, crashed outside the club’s stadium Saturday evening.

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Rory Smith
, New York Times

MANCHESTER, England — A helicopter belonging to the owner of Leicester City, the English Premier League soccer club, crashed outside the club’s stadium Saturday evening.

Initial news media reports suggested that Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Thai billionaire who bought the team in 2010 and bankrolled its fairy-tale Premier League title win in 2016, was on board, although authorities did not immediately confirm that. Police said emergency services were “dealing” with an incident at the King Power Stadium and did not say if anybody survived the crash.

The crash occurred a little after 8:30 p.m., an hour or so after the end of Leicester’s Premier League game against West Ham United.

According to Sky News, witnesses reported that the helicopter appeared to develop a problem immediately after takeoff, struggling to clear the roof of the stadium and then spiraling to the ground. It crashed in one of the club’s official parking lots adjacent to the stadium.

Images and videos posted to social media showed a large fire near the stadium. It was not known if any bystanders were injured.

The sight of Srivaddhanaprabha’s helicopter landing on the field after games to collect the owner and his entourage and transport them back to London has become a familiar one during his time at the club. His son, Aiyawatt, Leicester’s vice chairman, would ordinarily have been among them, but Sky Sports reported that he did not attend the game Saturday.

Srivaddhanaprabha traces his wealth to his King Power International, a company based in Bangkok that operates duty-free shops at airports in Thailand. He opened his first outlet in 1989 and is thought to have amassed a fortune of some $5 billion. He bought Leicester, then in the second-tier Championship, in 2010 for 39 million pounds, the equivalent of about $50 million.

He became an immensely popular figure, thanks in part to regular displays of largesse toward fans. He provided free beer and doughnuts at the stadium for the game nearest his birthday. The club also spent tens of thousands of pounds equipping each fan with a “clacker” in order to improve atmosphere at the stadium. He regularly flew in Buddhist monks from his native Thailand to bless the field at the King Power Stadium.

Most of all, though, it was his role in building the team that won the Premier League — the first title in Leicester’s 132-year history — that sealed his place in the city’s heart. Leicester had been promoted to English soccer’s highest tier in 2014; at the start of the 2015-16 season, bookmakers ranked the team as a 5,000-1 outsider to win the championship.

With a team of castoffs from larger clubs and unheralded journeymen, however, Leicester held off the might of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea to win the title by 10 points. Thousands of fans spilled onto the city’s streets to celebrate.

Premier League rivals offered their best wishes to Leicester City on Saturday after word of the crash spread. The Manchester City Football Club posted on Twitter: “The thoughts of everyone at Manchester City are with all those at @LCFC following the incident after tonight’s match at the King Power Stadium.”

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