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.
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.
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:
- The helicopter came down in a car park behind the King Power Stadium following a Premier League game between Leicester and West Ham.
- Witnesses said the helicopter lost control within a few seconds and crashed into the club’s staff car park.
- Leicester City owner Srivaddhanaprabha was confirmed to have died along with beauty queen Nusara Suknamai and ‘right hand man’ Kaveporn Punpare
- Hero pilot Eric Swaffer died alongside his co-pilot girlfriend Izabela Roza Lechowicz.
- The Air Accident Investigation Branch is leading an investigation.
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!’
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
Businessman Srivaddhanaprabha bought the club in 2010[/caption]
The helicopter became engulfed in a ball of flames[/caption]
The helicopter took off and crashed at around 8.45pm[/caption]
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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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