Pilot could do ‘very little’ to stop Leicester City helicopter crash

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(L-R): Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Kaveporn Punpare, Nusara Suknamai, Izabela Roza Lechowicz and Eric Swaffer were killed in the crash
By Will Jefford
BBC News

The pilot of the helicopter that crashed outside Leicester City’s stadium, killing five people including its chairman, said “I’ve no idea what’s going on” as it spun out of control.

Eric Swaffer, 53, made the comment before the helicopter hit the ground outside the King Power Stadium on 27 October 2018.

The final report into the crash now been published.

It concluded the pilot could do “very little” to save those on board.

The crash claimed the lives of Leicester City chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, two members of his staff – Nusara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare – and pilots and partners Mr Swaffer and Izabela Roza Lechowicz.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB)’s final report said a tail rotor bearing seized, which in turn caused the crash.

The AAIB said the crash was “inevitable” after a sequence of mechanical failures.

Chief inspector of air accidents at the AAIB, Crispin Orr, said Mr Swaffer did what he could to control the Leonardo AW169 helicopter, but the catastrophic failure in a bearing in the tail rotor resulted in the aircraft making a sharp right turn.

In aircraft voice recordings, Mr Swaffer was heard to say: “I’ve no idea what’s going on”, shortly before the helicopter crashed into a concrete step.

Inspectors said four of the passengers survived the impact of the crash, but a fire that was caused by a “significant” fuel leak, proved fatal.

AAIB animation on what caused the Leicester City helicopter crash

Four first responders were treated for injuries caused by the heat of the fire after they attempted to rescue those inside the helicopter.

The report added two police officers who arrived at the scene one minute after the crash tried to smash the helicopter’s windscreen with their batons, but failed.

Mr Orr said: “This was a tragic accident in which five people sadly lost their lives. Our thoughts are with their loved ones, and everyone affected.”

Tributes were left outside the stadium in the immediate aftermath of the crash

It has taken almost five years to complete the 209-page final report, after what the AAIB previously called a “technically very complex” investigation.

The investigation discovered a worn bearing on the tail rotor had seized after the helicopter took off.

The shaft that controlled the tail rotor then unscrewed and became detached as a result, which in turn caused the helicopter to spin out of the pilot’s control.

The AAIB report stated the helicopter complied with “all applicable airworthiness requirements” and had been maintained correctly before the crash.

The wear on the rotor bearing was also found to have built up over a period of time and could not have been predicted, according to the inspectors.

The AAIB has made eight safety recommendations to the European Aviation Safety Agency (Easa) as a result of its investigation to “address weaknesses or omissions” in regulations for certifying large helicopters.

Leicester helicopter crash: A timeline

The crash occurred just over an hour after a Premier League match between Leicester City and West Ham United.

It sparked an outpouring of grief and tributes across the UK and abroad, with Leicester’s players travelling to Thailand for Mr Vichai’s funeral.

A statue of Mr Vichai was unveiled at the club in 2022, with the former chairman replaced by his son Khun Aiyawatt “Top” Srivaddhanaprabha.

The AW169 helicopter crashed shortly after this photograph was taken

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