Leicester City helicopter crash: Hero pilot killed alongside co-pilot girlfriend said working together was like ‘permanent holiday’

TRIBUTES have been paid to the hero helicopter pilot and his ‘soulmate’ girlfriend who died alongside Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.

Eric Swaffer, 53, and his co-pilot and partner Izabela Roza Lechowicz were among those killed when the chopper burst into flames shortly after taking off from the ground.

'Dead'... pilots and partners Izabela Lechowicz, Eric Swaffer
Pilots and partners Izabela Lechowicz and Eric Swaffer both died in the tragedy

Friends have told the SunOnline how the couple travelled the world, with Mr Swaffer often saying that working together was like being on a “permanent holiday”.

Nusara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, who were members of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s staff, also died when the aircraft burst into a ball of flames in the club’s stadium car park.

Pilot Eric has been credited with saving lives by guiding the aircraft away from crowds on the ground.

It is also understood to be the first time an AgustaWestland AW169 aircraft has crashed, the manufacturer confirmed.

The couple enjoyed travelling the world and working together

Paying tribute to Eric and Izabela, friend Lucie Morris-Marr, told Sun Online that Eric was the “ultimate professional” and “one of the most joyful and funny people I’ve ever met”.

She added: “He was so generous and loyal to everyone in his life.

“He loved his job and took it extremely seriously.

“He was so skilled he could fly a multitude of craft from different helicopters and private jets to commercial planes.”

What we know so far:

Izabela came to the UK in 1997 after finishing a degree in Poland
Izabela came to the UK in 1997 after finishing a degree in Poland
Embassy of Poland
Pilot Eric Swaffer and his partner Izabela Roza Lechowiczsay were among those killed
Pilot Eric has been credited with saving lives by guiding the aircraft away from crowds on the ground
The helicopter of Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha lands on the pitch at the end of the game before making it’s final fateful journey
Getty – Contributor

Eric is understood to have flown members of the Royal Family, the Dalai Lama and worked for Channel 4’s Big Breakfast and Virgin Radio during a 20-year career.

Speaking about his partner Izabela, 46, who was also killed in the horror crash friend Lucie said the pair, who lived in Camberley, Surrey, loved travelling the world together.

She added: “When I last heard from him he said he was so happy flying the world for private clients with his girlfriend and co-pilot Izabela.

“He said: ‘It’s like a permanent holiday to be honest!’

Nusara was a keen football fan, she attended various matches during Russia's 2018 World Cup
Nusara was a keen football fan, she attended various matches during Russia’s 2018 World Cup
The fifth victim was the owner’s right-hand man Kaveporn Punpare, nicknamed Golf
The fifth victim was the owner’s right-hand man Kaveporn Punpare, nicknamed Golf

“Very few people get to work and travel with their soulmate so there will be comfort for many who knew them that they lived an extraordinary and happy life.

“It’s so utterly tragic they have gone.

“I’m not surprised to read early reports that Eric may have steered the helicopter away from crowds and cars.

“He would have done everything in his power to save lives.”

The Foxes chairman had an amazing bond with supporters
Getty – Contributor

Eric has been pictured proudly standing next to the G-VSKP on the pitch when he had flown it before.

His Instagram account shows the helicopter back in February on the grass at the King Power Stadium.

He previously winched an injured person on board a helicopter from a ship 100 miles north of the Shetland Islands, in 70 mph winds.

In an interview Izabela spoke about moving to the UK from Poland in 1997 and her career as a pilot.

She said: “One of the things I enjoy most is the absolute unpredictability of piloting charter flights.

“I have no idea what I will be doing tomorrow because the telephone might ring at any minute and I will be flying to Switzerland, Russia, the Middle East or Seychelles.

“For this reason, I rarely make any plans for the weekend because everything might change at the very last minute.”

A pair of young Leicester fans look on at their tributes made to their late chairman
Alamy Live News
Foxes fans have been left badly affected by the tragedy
Getty Images – Getty

In July, Izabela told Polish news site Emito: “I love my work, in addition I can fulfill my biggest dream, that is to travel.”

Neighbours described Eric and Izabela as a “lovely couple” who often spoke of their love of flying.
One said: “They were a jet set couple, you never knew whether they were home or not because they’d be off flying around the world.”

A woman pauses and appears emotional as she adds flowers to a growing pile of tributes outside Leicester City Football Club’s King Power Stadium

Another added: “‘I know Eric was there yesterday. I didn’t know about Izabela though – she tended to do the longer-haul flights. We love them to bits.”

The helicopter took off at around 8.45pm and nosedived in a ball of flames less than 200 yards away just seconds later.

BT Sport pundit Jake Humphrey pointed to the aircraft from the studio during a live broadcast at the stadium and said: “As you can see the owners are now heading off.”

A loud explosion could be heard on post-match analysis show Premier League tonight just moments later.

PA:Press Association

Businessman Srivaddhanaprabha bought the club in 2010[/caption]

An aerial view of the wreckage of the helicopter in Leicester this morning
Sky News

Rex Features

The helicopter became engulfed in a ball of flames[/caption]

Rex Features

The helicopter took off and crashed at around 8.45pm[/caption]

The crash was then confirmed by the host live on air and the programme brought to an early end as the crew was evacuated from the stadium.

Leicestershire Police has said the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) will now be leading the investigation into the circumstances of the helicopter crash.

Italian Firm Leonardo Helicopter, who made the aircraft in 2016, has issued a statement saying it was saddened to hear of the crash.

It continued: “Leonardo Helicopters is ready to support the AAIB with their investigation to determine the cause of this accident.

“This is the first ever accident involving an AW169 helicopter.”

Leicester had just played West Ham in a 1-1 draw in the Premier League. The 5.30pm kick-off finished at around 7.30pm.

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