Two killed as helicopter hits crane in London

Two people were killed on Wednesday when a helicopter hit a crane at a building site in central London during morning rush hour and plunged to the ground, engulfing several cars in flames.

Police said at least 13 people were injured after the aircraft smashed into a crane on the top of an unfinished luxury apartment block at Vauxhall on the south bank of the River Thames.

The top of the 51-storey building, The Tower at One St George Wharf, was shrouded in mist at the time of the accident. Police have ruled out a terror attack.

Witnesses said the boom of the crane fell on a street below, sending construction workers fleeing for their lives, while the helicopter, emitting a huge cloud of black smoke, landed nearby onto several cars.

Firefighters rescued a man from a burning car after the falling aircraft cast flaming wreckage over the streets.

Police said the helicopter pilot, who was believed to be the only one in the aircraft, had been killed along with a person on the ground.

"There was a flash and the helicopter plunged to the ground. It exploded and you can imagine the smoke coming out of it," said Paul Ferguson, who was working in an office near the tower.

"It may be that on this misty morning the lights on nearby St George's Tower weren't on and it moved and clipped the edge of the crane and lost control," he told BBC News.

The bad weather had forced the pilot to request to divert his flight and land at London Heliport, five kilometres (three miles) from the crash site, a spokesman for the heliport said.

Police said six injured people were taken to hospital, five with minor injuries and one with a broken leg, while seven others were treated at the scene.

London Fire Brigade said more than 50 firefighters were working to secure the damaged crane after putting out the blaze in around 25 minutes.

Witnesses said part of the crane had crashed into the street.

Paul Robinson, 42, had been waiting to get onto the building site in his rubbish truck when he felt something hit his vehicle.

He thought the truck driver behind had driven into him. "Then I looked up, saw debris falling and ran like hell," he told AFP.

Looking back, "I saw the crane, the boom, hit the ground. It made a big bang."

The street was empty at the time, he said, adding: "If it was 30 seconds later, there'd have been cars there."

Local resident Nic Walker said he had been in bed and heard a helicopter flying overheard, but thought nothing of it as he often hears aircraft making their way to the nearby heliport.

"Then there was an almighty crash -- a visceral noise -- the kind where you know immediately that something terrible has happened," he told AFP.

"I knew immediately what had happened -- it's extremely foggy this morning," he added. "I put on some clothes and rushed outside to see if anyone needed help. There was burning fuel everywhere."

A police spokesman said the aircraft was a commercial helicopter bound from Redhill in Surrey, just south of London, for Elstree, north of the city.

Work on the tower, which is close to the site of the new US embassy and the headquarters of Britain's secret intelligence service MI6, is due to be finished this year.

The crash caused gridlock on the city streets and temporarily shut down several train, bus and Underground stations.

Prime Minister David Cameron was "very saddened to learn of the fatalities and injuries" in today's helicopter crash, his spokesman said.

by Alice Ritchie © 2013 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Jan 16, 2013