Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who died when his helicopter crashed in a car park next to the soccer club's stadium, was known to fans as a smiling, benevolent man who gave away free beers and hot dogs on his birthday and brought his Leicester City Football Club its fairytale English Premier League title in 2016. He was 60.

The business world remembers Vichai as the retail entrepreneur who started with one shop and grew Thailand's massive King Power duty-free chain.

The sight of his personal helicopter taking off from the middle of the field -- to take Vichai to his English base near London in Berkshire -- was a regular feature after Leicester's home games. On Saturday evening, it turned into a horror scene when the chopper appeared to suddenly lose power, plummeting to the ground in a parking lot outside the empty stadium and bursting into flames.

The crash sparked emotional scenes in Leicester, the East Midlands city whose devoted soccer fans will forever be grateful to Vichai for bankrolling not only the club's first title in the world's foremost soccer league, but one of the most incredible stories in world sports history.

Leicester, only two years after being promoted from England's second-tier league, was a 5,000-to-1 shot to win the Premier League at the start of the 2015-16 season. But after Vichai brought in veteran Italian manager Claudio Ranieri at the start of the campaign, the Foxes produced a stunning season. They lost only three of their 38 games, to win the title by a comfortable 10-point margin, ahead of far more illustrious rivals Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United.

Though his public comments were limited, Leicester's ever-smiling chairman became a talisman of the campaign, watching on from his seat in the stadium at home games beside his son, Aiyawatt, the club's vice chairman.

Vichai bought Leicester for 39 million pounds (1.7 billion baht) in 2010. After the club's turnaround, it is now valued at 371 million pounds (15.8 million baht), according to Forbes.

Such a transformation was in keeping with Vichai's success in the business world, after starting his duty-free interests from modest beginnings.

In 1989, he was granted a licence to open Thailand's first downtown duty-free store. Expansion into Thai airports followed, with King Power ultimately granted a monopoly for duty-free stores at all the country's main airports.

Today the King Power empire is worth 3.8 billion pounds (161.7 billion baht), according to Forbes, with Vichai having been the fifth-richest person in Thailand.

His family's empire also included Accor's Pullman hotels in Thailand, and a $226 million stake, bought in 2016, in the country's biggest budget airline, Thai AirAsia.

Last year, Vichai also enlarged his soccer interests, buying Belgian second-tier club Oud-Heverlee Leuven.

A devout Buddhist who had monks bless the King Power Stadium regularly for good luck, Vichai and his wife, Aimon Srivaddhanaprabha, had four children.

He was born Vichai Raksriaksorn, but in 2012, the king of Thailand recognised his achievements by bestowing on his family their new surname, which means “light of progressive glory”.