Final words of helicopter pilot before crash that killed Leicester City owner revealed in official report

UK

The final words of the pilot of the helicopter involved in a crash which killed the owner of Leicester City Football Club have been revealed in an official report.

As the aircraft span out of control, Eric Swaffer, 53, could be heard saying: “I’ve no idea what’s going on”.

Seconds later, it hit the ground outside the club’s King Power Stadium, on 27 October 2018

The details were revealed in a newly-released report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) into a crash which happened shortly after the helicopter took off from the pitch.

Crane moves helicopter wreckage
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The helicopter crashed just outside Leicester’s King Power Stadium

Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, employees Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, Mr Swaffer and his partner, Izabela Roza Lechowicz – also a professional pilot – were all killed.

The Leonardo AW169 helicopter reached an altitude of approximately 430ft before plunging to the ground.

Investigators found the pilot’s pedals became disconnected from the tail rotor – resulting in the aircraft making a sharp right turn which was “impossible” to control.

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The AAIB described this as “a catastrophic failure”, causing the helicopter to spin quickly, approximately five times.

As the helicopter lost control, a shout of: “Hey, hey, hey!” came from the rear cabin, where Mr Vichai and his employees were seated, the AAIB said.

Mr Swaffer, a highly experienced pilot, responded by saying: “I’ve no idea what’s going on” and “uttered an exclamation”, according to the report.

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

The AIIB concluded that he had “performed the most appropriate actions”, which included raising a lever to reduce the helicopter’s pitch angle and “cushion the impact”.

The aircraft landed on a concrete step, coming to a rest on its side.

Four of the five occupants survived the initial impact, but all subsequently died in the fuel fire that engulfed the helicopter within a minute.

The crash happened around an hour after a Premier League match between Leicester City and West Ham United.

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The AAIB inquiry found the control system failed because a bearing in the tail rotor broke up due to its ceramic balls sliding rather than rolling, caused by a build-up of pressure.

Asked if this was “an accident waiting to happen”, Adrian Cope, AAIB senior inspector for engineering told reporters: “It was a process which built up continuously.

“The damage in that bearing built up over a period of time.”

Inspection of the bearing was only required once it had been used for 400 hours, but the helicopter had only been flown for 331 hours at the time of the accident.

The AAIB said one of the “contributory factors” in the crash was that regulations do not require maintenance checks to review the condition of used bearings against their original design.

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Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha reacts as he walks to his helicopter which has landed on the pitch after the game
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Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was among five people killed in the crash

The 209-page report also ruled out drone involvement and pilot error.

The AAIB’s chief inspector of air accidents Crispin Orr said: “The AAIB has carried out an extensive investigation to establish why the accident happened and how safety can be improved.”

The AAIB made eight safety recommendations to the European Aviation Safety Agency (Easa) – whose rules for aircraft certification are mirrored by the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK – to “address weaknesses or omissions” in regulations for certifying helicopters.

These deal with the design, validation and monitoring of safety critical components.

A statue of Mr Vichai was unveiled at the stadium in April last year.

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