'I've no idea what's going on': Chilling final words of hero pilot as he fought to stop Leicester City helicopter crash

6 September 2023, 07:02 | Updated: 6 September 2023, 08:07

The crash happened in October 2018
The crash happened in October 2018. Picture: Getty/Facebook

By Emma Soteriou

The chilling last words of the helicopter pilot in a crash which killed the owner of Leicester City Football Club have been revealed.

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Eric Swaffer, 53, said: "I've no idea what's going on" as the aircraft spun out of control.

He made the comment seconds before the helicopter hit the ground outside the club's King Power Stadium on October 27 2018, a report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) revealed.

Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was killed in the accident, along with employees Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, Mr Swaffer and his partner, Izabela Roza Lechowicz, who was also a professional pilot.

Four of the five occupants survived the initial impact, but there were no survivors after the helicopter caught fire in the space of a minute following a major fuel leak.

It happened shortly after the helicopter took off from the pitch, with it reaching an altitude of approximately 430ft before plummeting to the ground.

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Eric Swaffer
Eric Swaffer. Picture: Facebook

The pilot's pedals became disconnected from the tail rotor, resulting in the aircraft making a sharp right turn which was "impossible" to control, investigators found.

The AAIB described it as "a catastrophic failure", causing the helicopter to spin quickly, approximately five times.

As the helicopter plummeted to the ground, a shout of: "Hey, hey, hey!" came from the rear cabin, where Mr Vichai and his employees were seated, the AAIB said.

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

The hero pilot "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, crashing down on its left side.

The crash site
The crash site. Picture: Getty

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

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

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

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

Animation shows how Leicester owner's helicopter crashed

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 when the accident happened.

One of the "contributory factors" for the crash was that regulations do not require maintenance checks to review the condition of used bearings against their original design, the AAIB said.

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

Fans paid tribute to the owner following the crash
Fans paid tribute to the owner following the crash. Picture: Getty

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."

Eight safety recommendations were made 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.

Authorities from Canada, France, Italy and the US were also involved in the investigation because of where various significant components were manufactured.

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