The AAIB (Air Accidents Investigation Bureau) report into the circumstances of the helicopter crash outside King Power Stadium — which killed five people, including Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha — has detailed the mechanical failures that caused the crash, but it also highlighted more details about what happened that night on October 27, 2018.

The 209-page report, which has taken nearly five years to publish, revealed what caused the helicopter to spin out of control above the stadium following Leicester’s 1-1 draw with West Ham United. It also detailed the response and efforts of pilot Eric Swaffer to lessen the impact on the ground. Four of the five people on board could have survived the impact if not for the subsequent fire, which was caused by ruptured fuel cells as the helicopter landed on a concrete step.

It also reveals the prompt response of the emergency services as they attempted to save those inside.

The report has also led to Khun Vichai’s son, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, hiring litigation services.

Swaffer was the primary pilot of G-VSKP, Khun Vichai’s personal helicopter. He was qualified on, and regularly flew, the owner’s AW109 helicopter and their Boeing B737‑7EI Business Jet (BBJ). During 2018, he had flown 55 hours in G-VSKP, 17 hours in AW109 helicopters as well as 74 hours in the BBJ and other Boeing 737 aircraft. He had trained on the AW169 model, built by Leonardo Helicopters, since 2016.

He and partner Izabela Roza Lechowicz, who was a commercially licensed fixed-wing pilot training to fly helicopters, arrived at Fairoaks Airport in Surrey, where the helicopter was kept, just after 1pm and took off at 1.42pm for London Heliport, where they picked up the three corporate passengers, including Khun Vichai, and took off again at 2.15pm.

They landed at Leicester’s Belvoir Drive training ground a mile from the stadium at 2.59pm, where all five continued onto the stadium by car.

CCTV footage showed that Swaffer and Lechowicz returned to the training ground and passed through the training ground security post at 6.35pm. This was after the game, which finished at 6.15pm.

They were given flight clearance after it was confirmed a small unmanned surveillance craft used by the police had been grounded. The stadium was clear for the helicopter to return at 6.37pm and they took off at 6.44pm, landing on the pitch three minutes later.

The planned trip was to Stansted Airport to meet a corporate craft and between 7pm and 7.33pm the passengers returned before take off at 7.37pm. The helicopter climbed at a rate between 600 and 700 feet per second and at 250 feet the pilot called for ‘gear up please’, indicating that he was focused on his controls and Lechowicz was bringing up the landing gear.

(Rob Newell – CameraSport via Getty Images)

At 300 feet, they turned to the right before an increasing right yaw (spin) began. Cockpit recordings could hear an exclamation of “Hey, hey, hey” come from the rear cabin, after which the pilot said, “I’ve no idea what’s going on”.

Four seconds after the onset of the uncommanded yaw, the pilot uttered an exclamation.

He tried to correct the spin using the left pedal to the tail rotor and fully lowered the collective lever, which controls ascent and descent, for two seconds.

At 430 feet, the rotation rate had peaked and it began to descend, but at 75 feet the collective was fully raised in an attempt to lessen the impact on the ground, despite the disorientation of the spin and the darkness.

It was noted in the report that: “At night, in a highly unstable helicopter which was yawing uncontrollably and descending rapidly in close proximity to buildings, the pilot managed to cushion the descent sufficiently to render the initial impact survivable for at least four of the five occupants.”

Unfortunately, as the helicopter hit the ground while still rotating, it landed on a concrete step. This helped tip the helicopter onto its left side, fracturing the fuselage and fuel tank.

Witnesses saw fuel leaking and ignite at the rear of the helicopter, which rapidly engulfed the whole craft.

The helicopter’s ascent and then descent — which took 14 seconds from critical failure to landing — was witnessed by two police officers, who reported it and raced to the crash site under blue lights and arrived within a minute of the helicopter striking the ground, at 8.39pm.

The officers could not reach the right side door opening due to their height from the ground, so attempted to break the helicopter’s windscreen using their batons and other handheld equipment, which was unsuccessful as the screen was reinforced to prevent damage from bird strikes. They were then beaten back by the flames as the fire spread.

Approximately nine minutes after impact the Fire Service began extinguishing the fire. The fire was largely extinguished within six minutes of water being applied, but periodic flare-ups were observed for a further eight minutes — after which no flames were visible.

The physical evidence recovered from the accident site confirmed that the loss of yaw control of the helicopter resulted from failures in the tail rotor control system, which physically disconnected it from the pilot’s control inputs on the yaw pedals.

The investigation found that, in the prevailing circumstances, the loss of yaw control was irrecoverable.

Despite the magnitude of the impact forces, a post-mortem examination showed that four of the five occupants survived the initial impact. Their reported injuries would, however, have prevented them from being able to escape from the helicopter without external assistance, given the position in which it came to rest. The post-mortems confirmed that the surviving occupants would have quickly succumbed to inhalation of the products of combustion.

The only good fortune was that the area the helicopter landed in was the only space free of buildings, parked cars or people.

Now, after nearly five years, the families of the deceased have some answers about what happened that night, but it doesn’t bring much closure as the battle looks set to reach the courtroom.

Khun Vichai’s son, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, who succeeded him as chairman of both Leicester City and King Power, and the families of two of the other four victims, Swaffer and Lechowicz, have hired litigation specialists.

The report by the AAIB confirmed the crash happened after the tail rotor duplex bearing seized up, which initiated a sequence of failures in the tail rotor pitch control mechanism.

The AAIB report identified the seizure of the bearing was the result of fatigue, cracking, pitting, shearing, friction, grease degradation and heat generation, and highlighted failings in identifying and sharing information on the suitability of the bearings, not requiring the routine inspection of critical parts removed from service, such as the duplex bearing, and a lack of risk reduction and mitigation.

The Srivaddhanaprabha family and the families of Swaffer and Lechowicz have hired litigators Stewarts to consider legal action against the manufacturers of the AW169 model helicopter, Leonardo Helicopters, based in Italy.

“I am deeply saddened by the course of events,” Khun Top said in a statement issued on Wednesday morning. “Almost five years after my father’s passing, this report provides concerning evidence against Leonardo.

“My father trusted that he had bought a safe helicopter from a world-renowned manufacturer. Had he known what we know now, he would never have risked his life in this machine.

“The pain this causes me and my family is immeasurable and as a family, we continue to struggle every day with our grief at the loss of my father. He was a great inspiration to me personally and we all loved him very much.”

The families of Swaffer, who was absolved of any blame by the AAIB, and Lechowicz have already begun legal action against Leonardo Helicopters.

“This of course is every mother’s worst nightmare and time is not healing,” said Deborah Sutton, mother of Eric Swaffer. “Eric and Izabela were an inseparable couple, devoted to each other and to their flying. Without them, there is an enormous hole in our lives.

“I think of them daily and miss them more than I can say.”

“My sister and Eric were such bright lights in my life, we shared many adventures, but they had so many more plans and dreams to accomplish,” said Kate Lechowicz, sister of Izabela.

“The outreach from friends across the aviation industry showed how they were respected, but the comments showed they were also well-loved.

“Having recently bought their dream home, they were embarking on a new chapter in their lives — and were putting more time into animal welfare and other causes close to their hearts.

“Specifically, they were very excited to be meeting their nephew, my son, Theo Eric, who was born the day after their funeral and whom we named after his unmet uncle.

(Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

“Nothing fills the hole they leave; my only consolation is that even now they fly high together. Forever missed, forever loved.”

Leicester City has also issued a statement after the publication of the report into the tragedy, which also claimed the lives of Khun Vichai’s staff members Kaveporn Punpare and Nusara Suknamai.

“We commend the extensive and detailed body of work undertaken by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch and welcome the publication of its report, in the hope it will contribute positively to the continued development of future aviation standards and safety,” chief executive Susan Whelan said in the statement.

“The tragic events of 27 October 2018 will forever be etched into the memory of the Leicester City family. It was the night we experienced the devastating loss of our beloved chairman, friends, colleagues, and family members.

“Yet, in our grief, a sense of unity and strength was forged. The extraordinary support and kindness that was extended to those affected, by communities across Leicestershire, football and the wider world will never be forgotten.

“As we near the fifth anniversary of the accident, the families and loved ones of Khun Vichai, Kaveporn, Nusara, Eric and Izabela remain always in our thoughts, as those we lost remain always in our hearts.

“As a club, we continue to feel the loss of Khun Vichai, who loved his club, the city it calls home and the communities it represents.

“Our ongoing commitment to Khun Vichai’s vision, led with the same passion and devotion by Khun Aiyawatt and the Srivaddhanaprabha family, will be our lasting tribute to the memory of those we lost, and a reflection of the ambition, dedication and sense of community that brought us all together under Khun Vichai’s leadership.”

“This report is a frightening tale of missed opportunities,” Peter Neenan, a partner in the aviation team at Stewarts, who will lead the claimants’ case, said in a statement. “This was an accident waiting to happen.”

A Leonardo spokeswoman said: “The AAIB has not directed any recommended actions to Leonardo.

“The AAIB final report rightly concludes that Leonardo complied with all regulatory requirements in both the design and manufacture of the AW169.”

(Top photo: Getty Images)