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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

The helicopter took off from the pitch after a 1-1 draw against West Ham. Getty

'There was a big bang': Helicopter belonging to Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha crashes near stadium

Leicester City fans feared the worst this morning after a helicopter belonging to club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha crashed in a ball of flames in the club's car park on Saturday following the match against West Ham United, British media reported.

It was not known whether Srivaddhanaprabha, 60, a father of four and the founder of duty-free giant King Power International, was in the helicopter when it spiralled out of control and crashed just yards from the pitch, around an hour after the game had ended 1-1.

Srivaddhanaprabha is normally flown back to London in his private helicopter after attending home games.

According to eyewitnesses, the helicopter just cleared the top of the King Power Stadium before it started to spin. It then plummeted to the ground and burst into flames.

A spokesman for the Midlands club said: "We are assisting Leicestershire Police and the emergency services in dealing with a major incident at King Power Stadium."

Police and the ambulance services urged people to stay away. It is not known if the helicopter hit bystanders on the ground.

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Helicopter crash at Leicester City football ground

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Officials at King Power's headquarters said they could not yet comment on the crash or say whether Srivaddhanaprabha had been aboard.

It is not known how many people were on board or if there are any survivors.

Eyewitnesses described the distressing scenes outside the ground.

John Butcher, who was near the stadium at the time of the crash, told the BBC his nephew saw the helicopter spiral out of control apparently due to a faulty rear propeller.

"Within a second it dropped like a stone to the floor ... Luckily it did spiral for a little while and everybody sort of ran, sort of scattered. As far as we are aware nobody around the car park was caught up in this problem."

Srivaddhanaprabha is a huge favourite with the fans after he bought the unfancied side from central England in 2010 and they went on to stun the football world by winning the league title in 2016.

According to Forbes magazine he is the fifth richest person in Thailand with an estimated net worth of US$4.9 billion (Dh18bn).

Leicestershire Police said a team from the Department for Transport's Air Accidents Investigations Branch had taken charge of the investigation into the cause of the crash.

Srivaddhanaprabha bought the East Midlands club for £39 million (Dh184m) in 2010 when the club languished in England's second tier. After pumping millions into the club, he helped steer them back into the top flight in 2014. Leicester narrowly avoided relegation in 2015 and then embarked on a fairy-tale run under Italian manager Claudio Ranieri that carried them all the way to the Premier League title ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.

Reports in the British media said goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel could be seen outside the ground in tears while several supporters were visibly distressed.

Support poured in from the football community. Striker Jamie Vardy, a hero of that title-winning side, as well as defender and England international Harry Maguire sent messages of support on Twitter while rival clubs including Manchester City also voiced their concern.

West Ham's vice-chairman Karren Brady expressed her sympathy, saying on Twitter: "My thoughts and prayers are with everyone at Leicester City, horrific pictures on the news, I pray everyone is ok. I can confirm everyone from WHU has safely left the stadium."

Freelance photographer Ryan Brown was covering the game and saw the helicopter clear the stadium before it crashed, the BBC reported.

"Literally the engine stopped and I turned around, and it made a bit of a whirring noise," Brown told BBC Radio 5 Live. "It turned silent, blades started spinning and then there was a big bang."

Leicester had played a league match at home against West Ham earlier on Saturday, drawing 1-1. Sunday's Premier League games are expected to go ahead as planned but Leicester's League Cup match against Southampton on Tuesday is in doubt.

The self-made businessman Srivaddhanaprabha founded Thai duty-free giant King Power in 1989.

The duty-free business got a big boost in 2006 when it was granted an airport monopoly under the government of then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and it continued to prosper even after Shinawatra's ouster in a coup that year.

The family's empire also includes Belgian football club, Oud-Heverlee Leuven.