The founder and chairman of Thailand’s King Power duty free retail company has died in a helicopter crash in the UK.
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, 60, had been attending an English Premier league football match involving the Leicester City team he owned at its home ground, King Power Stadium. About 40 minutes after the match ended, his personal helicopter took off from the stadium grounds. According to eyewitnesses, after clearing the roof of a grandstand the helicopter’s engine went silent and the machine crashed inside the stadium complex near the car park, exploding in a fireball. Two members of his staff – Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare – and two pilots also lost their lives in the crash.
The King Power founder created the business 29 years ago, securing a licence to operate Thailand’s first downtown duty free shop at Mahatun Plaza. Six years later the company won the sole concession at what was then Bangkok’s primary international airport, Don Mueang.
Since then the company has grown, often drawing controversy, by monopolising duty-free retailing at most of the nation’s major airports and launching online.
In June 2016, King Power bought a 39 per cent stake in Thai Air Asia, becoming the airline’s second largest shareholder.
King Power has an estimated 7000 employees across Thailand and operates in several international markets. Srivaddhanaprabha personally had an estimated net worth of US$4.9 billion according to a Forbes calculation last year, ranking him Thailand’s fifth richest person.
King Power is largely controlled by Srivaddhanaprabha’s family, with his wife Aimon and all four children Aiyawatt, Voramas, Aroonroong and Apichet, holding executive roles in the business.
Outside corporate life, Srivaddhanaprabha was passionate about football, buying Leicester City in 2010 and Belgian club Oud-Heverlee Leuven last year. Leicester City caused an upset in 2016 winning its first English Premier League title ahead of favoured rivals. In his home country, Srivaddhanaprabha is credited with developing the sport at youth level.
He was also an active polo player, who owned the VR Polo Club in Bangkok and served as president of the Ham Polo Club in London. He played in the same team as Princes Charles, William and Harry.
According to UK media reports, Srivaddhanaprabha regularly commuted to home games using his helicopter, to and from his Berkshire estate.
In a statement confirming his death, Leicester City Football Club said “the world has lost a great man”.
“Leicester City was a family under his leadership. It is as a family that we will grieve his passing and maintain the pursuit of a vision for the club that is now his legacy.”