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
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
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

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?