Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Emiliano Sala: A season of tragedy - the reporters' view
Sky Sports News reporters Rebecca Williams and Rob Dorsett pen their experiences covering two stories that shook the football world
By Rob Dorsett and Rebecca Williams, Sky Sports News
Last Updated: 21/05/19 3:11pm
Tragedy struck in the 2018/19 season. The reporters at the heart of the Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and Emiliano Sala stories recall covering the disasters.
'A freakish and unthinkable tragedy'
Sky Sports News' reporter Rob Dorsett was at the King Power Stadium covering Leicester's Premier League game with West Ham in late October. But a relatively normal working day turned into reporting first-hand on a tragedy when a helicopter carrying Leicester's chairman, two of his staff Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, pilot Eric Swaffer and Mr Swaffer's girlfriend Izabela Roza Lechowicz crashed in the club car park.
Here, Rob recounts being one of the first on the scene and how Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha's legacy lives on at the club.
Rob Dorsett writes...
I remember the disbelief I felt when I left the media suite on that fateful night in October, and ran round the stadium to see Vichai's helicopter - on its side on the edge of the car park, still burning fiercely. I knew straight away that the chairman had perished - even though we couldn't report as much.
But I had no idea then just what an impact his death would have on the club, the city of Leicester, and the wider footballing community.
I had immediate, personal fears for Leicester's director of football, Jon Rudkin. I've known him for almost 20 years, from when he worked at Leicester's academy, and I knew that he often went with Vichai on board the helicopter, as they headed to London post-match. When I got confirmation that he and Aiyawatt, Vichai's son, were safe, it was a strange mix of feelings: relief, of course, for them, but also a terrible foreboding about who had inevitably died.
Four others had died alongside Vichai, and so countless other people connected with Leicester, and the helicopter itself, must have immediately had the same concerns - which of their friends and colleagues were also on board? I tried hard not to vocalise those fears on TV, focusing on the facts rather than speculation, which could be nothing but damaging for our audience.
But I couldn't get the thoughts out of my my head.
The crash site is so close to the King Power Stadium, fenced off, but supporters and those of us in the media see it before and after every home game.
And the memories are still very vivid, very disturbing.
The huge persona of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha still dominates Leicester City.
Enormous images of the club's charismatic chairman adorn the North Stand - arms folded, smiling; his portrait stands proudly in the main reception; the club's official charity now bears his name. And now the 2018/19 Premier League season is at an end, it will be forever remembered as the season when the club lost one of its most well-loved characters.
The aftermath of his death is still very much being felt by all those involved with the club. The players still talk of him, though now it's more with a smile for his memory, than a grimace for his passing. The club's end of season awards last week, saw his son, Aiyawatt, speak publicly for the first time since his father's death.
Leicester's final game of the season, at home to Chelsea, had to be carefully planned - yes, there was the annual walk around the pitch by the players, with mutual appreciation from the stands following a ninth-placed Premier League finish.
But there was no celebration organised, no party. It just didn't feel right.
Vichai's passing still haunts this club. Leicester don't currently have a chairman - Aiyawatt, Vichai's son and the current vice-chairman, will take over in due course, as he will his father's business empire. But at the moment, seven months after his death, there is still a void in the club's hierarchy.
There are so many firsts still to come for Leicester, following this tragedy: next season will be the first full season where Vichai isn't in charge, or present; October will see the first anniversary of his death; at some stage, Aiyawatt will be announced as Leicester's new chairman.
But that final point is what makes me convinced that Leicester will go from strength to strength, in Vichai's absence.
The Srivaddhanaprabha family in general, and Aiyawatt in particular, have been hugely touched by the supporters' outpouring of grief and solidarity. It's much more than they ever expected.
Aiyawatt - known as 'Top' by all those around him is also very proud of what his father achieved at the football club, crowned by so memorably winning the Premier League title in 2016.
Those two facts together mean that I am sure the club will receive more financial backing and support from the Srivaddhanaprabha family than ever before. 'Top' wants to see the club thrive, and he now has more motivation than ever.
It was Aiyawatt who replaced Claude Puel with Brendan Rodgers.
It is Aiyawatt who has given the green light to accelerate plans for a brand new £100m training centre.
It is Aiyawatt who will make big money available to strengthen the squad this summer.
And so the 2018/19 season for Leicester City will be remembered as one dominated by a freak, and unthinkable tragedy.
And yet somehow, it feels like Leicester have come through this tragedy stronger than they were a year ago. Supporters, players and owners are closer, with an unshakeable bond, and a united determination to succeed for themselves, and to honour the memory of the man they called 'The Boss'.
'Confusion, shock, disbelief'
Rebecca Williams was tasked with reporting from Nantes when the devastating news broke about the plane crash that took the life of Cardiff's new signing Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson in January.
Here, she remembers how much the tragedy affected the locals that just days earlier were chanting Sala's name during his impressive spell with Nantes.
Rebecca Williams writes...
Sports news is usually filled with light-hearted, positive stories.
But this was, by far, the saddest I have covered.
It must have been around 6am when I watched the early morning television news, to see that a plane had gone down just off the coast of Guernsey. It grabbed my attention. Having lived in the Channel Islands, I had flown that route myself on many occasions.
An hour later, I got a call from work with the awful news that Cardiff's record signing, Emiliano Sala may have been the passenger on board. I was on standby to head to Nantes. For a good few hours, there were confused reports. Nobody knew exactly what had happened, but Cardiff were desperately trying to make contact with the Argentinian striker.
At around 10am that morning, the worst had been confirmed. It was indeed Sala who had been on that fateful flight from Nantes to Cardiff. He'd been saying farewell to his former team-mates in France, before heading to Wales to make a new start in the Premier League.
Along with my cameraman and producer, we headed for Paris by train. Nantes isn't the easiest place to reach and delays meant we didn't arrive until midnight. Even at that time of night, it was clear to see the impact the news was having on the world of football. There was confusion, shock and genuine disbelief.
We woke up early the next morning and headed for Nantes' stadium to report live on Sky Sports News and Sky News. It was still dark, but fans had already started to arrive to pay their respects.
One lady could barely speak to me because she was in floods of tears. It seemed, in those early days, that fans refused to believe the worst. They were adamant that the Argentinian would be found alive.
By lunchtime, it was still bitterly cold in the city centre, but hundreds of people turned out. A sea of yellow flowers was beginning to grow in the main square. Nantes are nicknamed the Canaries. Even in the midst of winter, daffodils, yellow roses and sunflowers lit up the city's streets in tribute to the club's leading goalscorer.
Outside the training ground, staff, supporters and players turned out to pay their respects, many inconsolable. A life-sized picture of Sala hung on the fence. Candles were lit and scarves were hung through the railings. As the days passed, the tributes grew and grew.
We would sit in our van, editing a report for the evening news and people would approach us to share their memories of Sala. One elderly lady told me how she would bump into him at the local convenience store and he was always polite and happy to chat.
Sala was, it seems, a genuine, down-to-earth young man, who had just achieved the opportunity of a lifetime, playing in the Premier League.
For me, the news became even more haunting as audio messages that Sala had sent to friends started to emerge. In them, he reportedly said that he felt like the plane he was on was falling to pieces. And then, just a few days later, his sister and mother, flew to the UK. Their grief was displayed in front of the world's media, as they bravely appealed for the search of Sala's body to be resumed.
Even the Cardiff manager, Neil Warnock admitted that he had considered retiring, because he was so upset about what had happened.
The story has, without doubt, shocked the world of sport - what a desperately sad loss.