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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Jeremy Clarkson
people
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own