AAIB report says Leicester helicopter crash failure was 'irrecoverable' by pilot

It was not possible for the pilot to recover from the tail rotor failure on the helicopter that crashed and killed Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in 2018, Britain’s aviation accident investigator reported on Wednesday.

Pilot Eric Swaffer, his partner Izabela Roza Lechowicz and two members of Vichai’s staff, Nusara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, were also killed in the crash shortly after takeoff outside the King Power Stadium following a Premier League match.

Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said that the helicopter was yawing uncontrollably and descending rapidly at a low altitude near buildings at night after the tail rotor failed. The tail rotor counteracts the torque of a helicopter’s main rotor to ensure the aircraft does not spin out of control.

Victims clockwise from top left: Eric Swaffer, Izabela Roza Lechowicz, Kaveporn Punpare and Nursara Suknamai
Victims clockwise from top left: Eric Swaffer, Izabela Roza Lechowicz, Kaveporn Punpare and Nursara Suknamai

“The investigation found that, in the prevailing circumstances, the loss of yaw control was irrecoverable,” it said in its final report on the crash.

Nevertheless, the pilot managed to land softly enough for four of the five people on board to survive the impact, according to post-mortem examinations.

“Their reported injuries would, however, have prevented them from being able to escape from the helicopter without external assistance, given the position in which it came to rest,” AAIB said.

The helicopter was on its left side and its fuel tanks were damaged, resulting in a major leak that ignited quickly, according to the report.

Police officers arrived within a minute of the crash but were unable to break the helicopter’s windscreen with their batons and other handheld equipment as the aircraft burned, AAIB said. The fire killed those onboard, the report said.

The helicopter crashed just outside Leicester's King Power Stadium
The helicopter crashed just outside Leicester’s King Power Stadium

The investigators found that problems with the bearing in the tail rotor of the Leonardo AW169 helicopter began a sequence of failures leading to the crash.

Italy’s Leonardo has since issued 16 service bulletins for the model, including additional inspection requirements, the report said.

Litigation specialists Stewarts, which represents the families of Vichai, Swaffer and Lechowicz, said the report showed there was nothing the pilot could have done to prevent the crash.

Stewarts said litigation had already begun in Italy against Leonardo on behalf of the families of Swaffer and Lechowicz and Vichai’s family was considering legal recourse against the manufacturer.

“I am deeply saddened by the course of events,” Vichai’s son, Aiyawatt, said in a statement. “Almost five years after my father’s passing, this report provides concerning evidence against Leonardo.”

Leicester City players lead by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel (right) carry wreaths following the accident
Leicester City players lead by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel (right) carry wreaths following the accident

Leonardo did not respond immediately to a request for comment outside normal business hours.

Leicester City Chief Executive Susan Whelan added on the report: “We commend the extensive and detailed body of work undertaken by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch and welcome the publication of its report, in the hope it will contribute positively to the continued development of future aviation standards and safety.

“The tragic events of 27 October, 2018, will forever be etched into the memory of the Leicester City family. It was a night we experienced the devastating loss of our beloved chairman, friends, colleagues, and family members.

“Yet, in our grief, a sense of unity and strength was forged. The extraordinary support and kindness that was extended to those affected, by communities across Leicestershire, football and the wider world will never be forgotten.

“As we near the fifth anniversary of the accident, the families and loved ones of Khun Vichai, Kaveporn, Nusara, Eric and Izabela remain always in our thoughts, as those we lost remain always in our hearts.

As a club, we continue to feel the loss of Khun Vichai, who loved his club, the city it calls home and the communities it represents. Our ongoing commitment to Khun Vichai’s vision, led with the same passion and devotion by Khun Aiyawatt and the Srivaddhanaprabha family, will be our lasting tribute to the memory of those we lost, and a reflection of the ambition, dedication and sense of community that brought us all together under Khun Vichai’s leadership.”

The AAIB report said the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) had also published nine airworthiness directives for Leonardo’s AW169 and AW189 models.

The final report also offered eight more recommendations to EASA, including changes to its certification requirements and the way it assesses and mitigates against potential catastrophic failures.

EASA could not be reached immediately for comment outside normal business hours.

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