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Leicester City helicopter crash investigators focus on tail rotor

The Guardian logo The Guardian 15/11/2018 Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent
Tributes left outside Liecester City's football stadium after the fatal helicopter crash © Getty Tributes left outside Liecester City's football stadium after the fatal helicopter crash

The helicopter that crashed outside Leicester City’s football stadium, killing five people including the club’s owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, failed to respond to the pilot’s pedal commands in the moments before it started spinning downwards, investigators have found.

A special bulletin released by the Air Accident Investigation Board said the immediate focus would be to examine the helicopter’s tail rotor control system – which safety agencies have ordered to be checked in all similar models. Black box data showed the aircraft “yawed to the right” when the pedal should have sent it left.

Supporters pay tribute to Leicester chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who was killed in the helicopter crash © PA Supporters pay tribute to Leicester chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who was killed in the helicopter crash

The helicopter had made four successful flights earlier that day, bringing Vichai and his guests from London to watch Leicester City play, and then making a short flight into the King Power stadium to collect them after the match.

Initial evidence from the black box recorder retrieved from the wreckage has shown that, at 8.37pm on 27 October, the helicopter climbed to 320 feet from the centre circle of the Leicester pitch, before retracting its landing gear. It continued to climb and set its course while apparently under control – before turning its nose to the right, contrary to the pilot’s pedal commands.

From a height of 430 feet, the helicopter started “descending with a high rotation rate” before crashing in an almost upright position, with its landing gear still retracted, on concrete steps next to the stadium’s car park, rolling on to its left side and being rapidly engulfed by flames.

Investigators remove part of the helicopter from the crash scene © Getty Investigators remove part of the helicopter from the crash scene

Investigators say the much of the airframe was “almost completely consumed by fire”. Emergency services and stadium staff were unable to approach the helicopter to help the victims because of the intensity of the blaze.

Detailed forensic examination of the remaining wreckage and data from flight recorders is continuing at the AAIB’s headquarters in Farnborough, Hampshire. The AAIB said the cause of the “apparent loss of yaw control” – ie steering of the helicopter’s direction – is yet to be determined. The investigation is likely to conclude in late 2019.

The European Aviation Safety Agency has ordered precautionary safety checks on the the tail rotor of all similar helicopter models, the AgustaWestland AW169 and AW189, manufactured by the Italian aerospace company Leonardo.

Video: Expert analyses Leicester helicopter crash (Sky)

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The tragedy has led to wide outpourings of grief in Leicester, and in particular tributes to the owner. Vichai bought the club in 2010 and transformed it with his financial backing, with the fairytale success of a first ever Premier League title in 2016.

The other four passengers who died were Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, along with pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz.

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