A five-year investigation into the Leicester helicopter crash that killed five people, including Leicester City FC’s owner, has concluded that the “catastrophic failure” of an essential component led to the devastating tragedy.
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who bought Leicester for £39m in 2010, died alongside four others after boarding the helicopter following his team’s 1-1 draw with West Ham United in the Premier League.
The flight took off at 7.37pm on the King Power Stadium on October 27, 2018.
But shortly after take-off the aircraft, an Leonardo AW169, appeared to lose control and crashed on the car park outside, killing Vichai along with members of Vichai’s staff Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz.
Now the investigation has finally provided some answers for grieving family members.
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Investigators looking into the incident had already revealed the cause of the crash, with the pilot’s pedals becoming disconnected from the tail rotor and causing the aircraft to make an uncontrollable right turn before spinning and hitting the ground.
But the latest from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report details how a lack of communication between the helicopter’s manufacturer and the maker of crucial flight components led to the catastrophic crash.
The fact that flight tests had not been shared with manufacturer of the duplex bearing – a component of the aircraft’s tail rotor – was listed as a contributing factor to the incident. However, the tests were not required by regulations to be shared.
The rotor seized up after the mechanism linking it to the pedals failed, leading to a “sequence of failures” which “culminated in the unrecoverable loss of control of the tail rotor blade pitch angle and the blades moving to their physical limit of travel”.
As a result it was “impossible” for the pilot to control the flight path of the helicopter, despite him “immediately” trying to correct the aircraft as it span out of control.
Mr Swaffer reportedly said “I have no idea what’s going on” just seconds before the helicopter hit the ground as he desperately tried to prevent the crash.
The helicopter manufacturer, Leonardo Helicopters, also did not implement routine inspections, the AAIB said. This also was not required by regulations and guidance.
According to the vehicle’s radio altimeter, it was roughly 430ft (just over 130 metres) above ground when it began to fall.
The collision with the concrete car park caused a fuel leak, which ignited shortly afterwards.
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“Intense post-impact fire rapidly engulfed the fuselage,” the report said.
Emergency services raced to the scene to tackle the huge fire, but all the occupants of the helicopter died.
Following the findings, Leonardo has issued sixteen Service Bulletins, while the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has published nine Airworthiness Directives for the continued use of the AW169 and AW189 helicopter types.
The AAIB also made eight safety recommendations to the EASA for future regulation of large helciopters.
Vichai, who bought Leicester for £39m in 2010 and has two sons and two daughters, was due to fly to Luton Airport before taking a private jet back to Thailand.
The 60-year-old was a hugely popular figure with Leicester supporters, and had provided the backing that saw them win their first ever Premier League title in 2016.
Fans of all stripes appeared at the stadium and left flowers, scarves and football shirts. A Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter laid down his club’s shirt that read: “Divided by colours, united by grief.”
Several stunned fans even witnessed the crash. Tim Acott, a Leicester season ticket holder for 40 years, said: “It just came out of the stadium already spinning, then down to the ground. Just in a spiral.
“It hit the ground with a big bang then burst into flames. It’s over on the other side of the car park, I don’t think there were people there. I’m shaking like anything.”
Players in Premier League matches on the following day wore black armbands as a mark of respect and minute’s silences were held before many games. As many as 20,000 Leicester City fans marched through the city in a memorial the following the month.
Following the crash a spokesman for Leonardo said: “Leonardo is one of the biggest suppliers of defence equipment to the UK MoD and the largest Italian inward investor to the UK.
“Leonardo is extremely saddened to hear of the fatal accident yesterday evening involving an AW169 helicopter at Leicester City Football Club’s stadium.
“We wish to offer our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of those involved. Leonardo Helicopters is ready to support the AAIB with their investigation to determine the cause of this accident.
“This is the first ever accident involving an AW169 helicopter.”
Express.co.uk has contacted Leonardo for comment on the investigation’s latest findings.
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