‘Hero’ pilot flew struggling helicopter away from crowds before Leicester City crash – NATIONAL 

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A ‘hero’ pilot flew the struggling helicopter away from crowds of football fans before a fatal crash near the King Power Stadium in Leicester. 

Eric Swaffer died alongside his partner Izabela Roza Lechowicz in the crash which also claimed the lives of Leicester City Football Club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and two of his staff members, Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare.

Leicester Chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, was among those to have tragically lost their lives on Saturday evening when a helicopter carrying him and four other people crashed outside King Power Stadium. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Leicester Chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, was among those to have tragically lost their lives on Saturday evening when a helicopter carrying him and four other people crashed outside King Power Stadium. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Mr Swaffer was at the controls of the aircraft when it crashed in a car park just metres from the King Power Stadium on Saturday evening.

Witnesses said he was a hero for guiding the spinning helicopter away from crowds on the ground.

Lucie Morris-Marr, who was friends with Mr Swaffer for 18 years, said he would have done all he could to prevent lives being lost in the incident.

She told the Press Association: ‘Having been lucky to have known him as a friend and flown with him a few times as a passenger, it doesn't surprise me that he would have done all he could to save lives and do everything in his power to avoid a worse outcome in those final moments.

‘He was an incredible person and very focused when flying.’

The 43-year-old said Mr Swaffer was experienced at flying several types of aircraft, but had a "passion" for helicopters.

Describing him as ‘extremely funny, charming and cheeky with a wicked sense of humour’, she added: ‘Everyone loved him. I'm not surprised the chairman hired him. He was always great company.

‘I would always ask him about his famous clients but he was so discreet which is why they hired him, of course.

‘He was so generous and kind to his friends - when I lived in London he once flew us in a helicopter to a country hotel for afternoon tea.

"He loved his life. And he seemed to be living the dream flying with his girlfriend. Which is why their sudden passing in this tragedy is so terribly, terribly sad.’

Mr Swaffer and Ms Lechowicz were both professional pilots and lived together in Camberley, Surrey. Ms Morris-Marr said the couple had been together for about 10 years.

She said: ‘In recent years they have been in high demand from private clients in particular and have been flying private jets and helicopters as a duo enabling them to travel to some amazing locations such as Greece, Thailand and Vienna.

‘Recently, I was pleased to see from his Facebook posts that he had put down roots and bought a beautiful home with Izabela in Camberley. They were often having dinner parties with their many friends.’

Speaking to Stephen Nolan on BBC Radio 5 Live, Ms Morris-Marr described their romance as an ‘aviation love story’, adding: ‘Not many people get to work and travel with their soulmate, travelling the world going to glamorous places.’

Ms Lechowicz, who moved to the UK from Poland in 1997, was selected by her country's London embassy as one of 18 exceptional Polish women who inspired the community in the UK for being a pilot.

Writing earlier this year about becoming a pilot as part of the project to celebrate women getting the vote in Poland in 1918, she said she was inspired by her partner.

She added: ‘Shortly after (coming to the UK) I also met my partner, who back then worked as an airline and helicopter pilot.

‘He took me out for a few flights, and that is how it all started. I knew this is something I want to do from the moment I touched the controls for the first time.’

The Polish embassy described Ms Lechowicz as ‘a wonderful pilot’ who ‘created a positive image of Poland in the UK’.

‘It is with great sadness that we received news of the death of Izabela Lechowicz in the Leicester helicopter crash,’ a statement said.

‘Our deepest condolences to her family.’