Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha at an open-top bus parade through the streets of Bangkok, Thailand. (Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg)

Leicester City Owner Dies In Helicopter Crash

(Bloomberg) -- Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Thai billionaire who stunned the sports world by taking perennially mediocre Leicester City to the pinnacle of English soccer in 2016, died when his helicopter crashed shortly after taking off from the club’s King Power Stadium over the weekend. He was 60.

Leicester City Owner Dies In Helicopter Crash

The crash happened about 45 minutes after he’d been watching his team play West Ham in the English Premier League on Saturday. The chopper faltered shortly after takeoff and slammed into a parking lot, bursting into flames. Vichai was one of five people killed in the crash, Leicester City said in a statement.

"The world has lost a great man," the club said. "A man of kindness, of generosity and a man whose life was defined by the love he devoted to his family and those he so successfully led. Leicester City was a family under his leadership."

Born Vichai Rakriaksorn in Bangkok, he amassed a $3.3 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His wealth derived mostly from King Power Group, which he founded in a shopping mall in 1989 and developed into Thailand’s biggest duty free company thanks to the country’s tourism boom.

Vichai’s son Aiyawatt is chief executive officer, other children are part of the executive team and his wife Aimon is the vice chairman, the firm’s website shows. Vichai also owned a minority stake of Thai AirAsia, a unit of the region’s largest discount carrier. The family name Srivaddhanaprabha was bestowed by Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and loosely translates as light of progressive glory.

Outside of Asia, he’s best known for gambling on a mediocre English soccer club and transforming it -- briefly -- into a championship-winning team. Vichai bought Leicester City for about 39 million pounds ($50 million) in 2010 when it was struggling outside the top tier and wasn’t particularly fashionable. In a demonstration of his early ambition, Vichai convinced former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson to manage the team and arrest its slide.

Leicester City Owner Dies In Helicopter Crash

Within six years, Leicester had served up one of the more improbable fairytales in sports when the team, known as the Foxes and now under Claudio Ranieri, stunned the world by winning the richest league in soccer. It did so on a modest payroll and in style, finishing the season 10 points ahead of second-placed Arsenal after losing just three of its 38 matches.

Leicester City Owner Dies In Helicopter Crash

In addition to the silverware, Vichai endeared himself to the city’s fans by trying to attend every home game and donating to local causes.

He gave 2 million pounds toward a new children’s hospital, another million to the city’s university medical department and put some money into the fund to rebury King Richard III in Leicester Cathedral. And on a more personal level, he handed out 60 free season tickets to fans to mark his 60th birthday in April this year.

Former Foxes striker Emile Heskey was one of several footballers past and present to express his sadness, tweeting soon after it was first reported that Vichai was on board on the helicopter.

Vichai’s sports empire also extended to Belgium, with the purchase of Oud-Heverlee Leuven in the country’s second tier, and to horses. He was a big supporter of polo in Thailand and recently made inroads into U.K. horseracing with his King Power Racing team displaying the same blue-and-white colors as Leicester City Football Club.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.