Two dead after helicopter crashes in central London

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Police said the helicopter hit the crane on top of the building, in the St George Wharf development in Vauxhall, at 8am yesterday

Air accident investigators were last night trying to piece together the last moments of the helicopter flight which ended with death raining down on early morning commuters.

Click on the image above or HERE to launch gallery

Two people, including the highly experienced pilot of the luxury eight-seat AgustaWestland helicopter, were killed after the aircraft struck a crane in central London while flying in low cloud and plummeted to the ground "like a rocket".

The helicopter clipped the crane above the St George Wharf Tower in Vauxhall while trying to divert due to bad weather and smashed into a busy road, setting cars and buildings ablaze as pedestrians fled for their lives.

Witnesses described hearing a thunderclap-like bang shortly before 8am and looking up to see the helicopter, denuded of its rotors and tail, emerging from the clouds shrouding the skyscraper next to the River Thames – near the headquarters of MI6 – as it plunged earthwards. It crashed close to a railway bridge at one of London's busiest transport interchanges.

Commander Neil Basu, the police officer in charge of a massive emergency operation, said it was a miracle that the aftermath of the rush-hour crash was not "many, many times worse". Amid pools of burning aviation fuel, firefighters and passers-by pulled one man from a car that was set alight.

Twelve people were injured, the majority treated at the scene for cuts and bruises. Five required hospital treatment, including a man with a broken leg.

The pilot was named as Pete Barnes, 50, a veteran helicopter specialist who had flown air ambulances and had more than 12,000 hours of flying time, which included filming for a string of Hollywood blockbusters and transporting celebrities and public figures. He was described by colleagues last night as "one of the best".

The second person killed was believed to have been in one of the burning buildings. Last night he was named as 39-year-old Matthew Wood, from Sutton, Surrey. His next of kin have been informed, the Metropolitan Police said.

The sight of a £4m aircraft falling out of the skies, despite some of the world's tightest regulations for flying over a large city, provoked calls, backed by David Cameron, for a review of rules that allow more than 1,300 helicopter flights over central London each month. The accident is believed to be the first fatal helicopter crash in the city centre since records began in 1976. Kate Hoey, the Labour MP for the Vauxhall area, said it "would have been facing a major, major catastrophe" if the helicopter had landed on the apartments nearby.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch said it would be "several months" before it could produce a definitive report on the cause of the tragedy. But it will focus on how a modern aircraft, fully equipped for instrument flying, collided with a 770ft-tall structure despite a 500ft exclusion zone around all buildings in the capital.

One witness told The Independent that the helicopter, a 15-year-old twin-engined AgustaWestland 109 Power, appeared to be out of control moments before the collision as it headed westwards along the Thames, en route from Redhill in Surrey to Elstree, Hertford-shire. There were unconfirmed reports that Mr Barnes was on his way to pick up a prominent businessman.

Sharon Moore, 39, said: "The helicopter was out of control. The noise made us look up and I thought, 'Oh my God'. It was swerving and then we heard a loud bang as the helicopter hit the building. Then it just went boom, there was flame and smoke everywhere."

Terrified commuters said the scene resembled a Hollywood disaster movie. The debris included steel stanchions from the crane left hanging crumpled above the accident scene.

Ben Slinger, 28, a warehouse supervisor, said: "There was an explosion directly overhead, like a thunderclap. I looked up. There was thick cloud and out of the cloud there suddenly came this rotorless helicopter. The body of the aircraft seemed perfectly intact – it just had the rotors missing. It plunged in a straight line to the ground like a rocket. It went straight into the road and went up in an enormous fireball. I could feel the heat from the fire on my face. I couldn't believe my eyes."

Key to the inqury will be the role played by the weather and whether dense low cloud obscured warning lights on the crane and tower.

Eyewitness: Lucky escapes

Sharon Moore

The voluntary worker, who has five children and who lives nearby, saw the helicopter slice through the crane "as if it was a piece of paper". "The helicopter did not seem to know which way to turn and then it just dropped. It sliced, screeching into the metal," said Ms Moore, 36. Moments before the aircraft came down, it appeared to try to avoid the tower block. "I honestly think it was as if the pilot was blinded," she said. "I think the helicopter tried to swerve but didn't know which way to turn."

Ray Watts

The lorry driver was collecting building materials from the tower when he saw debris and then the crane's boom crashing down. "I was scared and legged it," he told The Guardian. "I didn't know which way to run because there were bits everywhere. I ran towards the station and there were still bits raining down." He said he saw "a massive fireball" as the helicopter exploded and a building caught light, adding that it was lucky the wreckage fell across Nine Elms Lane just after the traffic lights turned red. "If the lights were green, the traffic would have gone through and it would have been a different story."

Michael Krumstets

The 45-year-old was walking to work with his flatmate when they saw the helicopter hit the crane. "There was a loud crack and it started spinning out of control towards us," he told Sky News. "We ran across the road and my flatmate fell over and I had to grab him. The helicopter crashed into the road just feet away from us. When you see a helicopter hurtling out of the sky towards you, it's incredible. It's the last thing you expect... we were so lucky. If we had been walking there just a few moments later we would have been dead."

Bruce Grain

One of the first firefighters on the scene, he said it was "absolute chaos" but the helicopter blaze was extinguished in 20 minutes. "I could see smoke from a mile away," he said. "The helicopter was still alight, part of the rotor blade was on the roof of nearby buildings."


View Larger Map

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories