The pilot of the helicopter involved in the 2018 fatal accident at Leicester’s football arena exclaimed, “I’ve no idea what’s going on” as the aircraft spiraled out of control, according to accident investigators.
The inspectors classified the crash, which claimed the lives of Leicester City Football Club’s owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, three other individuals, and the pilot, as a “tragic accident”.
A worn ball bearing in the tail rotor, causing mechanical failure, resulted in a loss of control following takeoff from the King Power Stadium.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) released a statement roughly five years after the incident on 27 October 2018, which cleared the pilot from any wrongdoing and eliminated the possibility of a drone collision.
Initially, four out of the five onboard were determined to have survived the crash but succumbed to death as the aircraft was consumed by flames in under a minute.
The helocopter had touched down on Leicester’s field 30 minutes post a game to pick up Vichai. The pilot was described as “relaxed” prior to the tragic flight that occurred 50 minutes later.
However, shortly after liftoff, the pedals lost connection with the tail rotor, causing the helicopter to make an uncontrollable sharp rightward turn.
The cockpit voice recordings captured cries of: “Hey, hey, hey!” emanating from the back cabin where Vichai, alongside his employees Nusara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, were situated, at the moment the helicopter began spinning uncontrollably.
Eric Swaffer, the experienced pilot, who had his partner, Izabela Roza Lechowicz – also a skilled pilot – beside him, responded with: “I’ve no idea what’s going on” and “uttered an exclamation”, as per the report.
Reaching approximately 130 metres, the helicopter spiraled to the ground beyond the soccer arena. The AAIB noted that Swaffer “took the most relevant measures”, including pulling back the landing equipment to soften the crash.
Upon the impact, with the helicopter resting on a concrete step, leaked fuel from the crash ignited, resulting in a fire too fierce for rescuers to approach the aircraft.
Investigators discovered that a bearing in the tail rotor had jammed due to accumulated “fatigue damage” over a span of time.
Although an inspection of this component was mandated after 400 service hours, the helicopter had logged merely 331 hours of flight before the tragic crash.
Chief inspector of air accidents, Crispin Orr, remarked: “The nature of the failure, in the tail rotor, was really very serious, of a sort that left them in a very poor situation. There was nothing more that the pilot could do”.
He further stated, “The nature of the failure, in the tail rotor, was really very serious, of a sort that left them in a very poor situation. There was nothing more that the pilot could do”.
Orr noted that it was “an incredibly complex technical investigation” wherein inspectors delved “very deeply into understanding the root of the failure”, incorporating the use of simulators, conducting endurance tests, and analyzing data from thousands of flights.
The detailed inquiry encompassed professionals from Canada, France, Italy, and the US, especially since significant parts of the Leonardo AW169 helicopter originated there.
Post-investigation, AAIB has taken steps to ensure similar aircraft’s continued safety and proposed further measures to enhance helicopter safety, emphasizing more frequent checks on essential parts.
Last year, a statue of Vichai, the Thai billionaire who financially propelled Leicester to a fairytale triumph on the football field and was heartily embraced by the city, was revealed at the stadium.