Two confirmed dead in London helicopter crash
on 16/01/2013 09:28:43
The helicopter crashed after hitting a crane on top of a tower block by the River Thames.
The stricken aircraft cartwheeled to the ground and exploded into flames before crashing into a street during the rush hour.
Scotland Yard said: "Two people have been confirmed dead at the scene. We have no further details. Two have been taken to south London hospital. We await a condition update."
Burning wreckage and aviation fuel covered the road as eyewitnesses reported seeing cars on fire and hearing people screaming.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed that the helicopter had come down. London Fire Brigade said the crash happened near Wandsworth Road in South Lambeth.
Fire and rescue services said they were taking "lots of emergency calls" as eyewitnesses described seeing grey smoke towering into the sky, close to Battersea Bridge.
Some took to Twitter to report details.
One said the aircraft appeared to have hit a crane on a newly-built tower block on the south bank of the Thames. It crashed close to a railway line and a branch of Sainsbury's.
London Fire Brigade confirmed that the crane at the St George's Wharf development appeared to have been left "in a precarious position".
Video footage shot on a mobile phone showed an entire road blocked by burning wreckage and aviation fuel.
The side of a building on one side of the street was also damaged by the flames.
Passers-by stood watching as the wreckage burned. A motorcycle was also lying on its side in the road where it was abandoned.
Commuter Sherna Noah described seeing a "large plume of dark grey smoke" as she crossed Battersea Bridge at around 8am.
She said: "I was coming across the bridge and basically I could see a few cyclists on the bridge looking towards the water.
"I looked over to see what they were looking at and could see a pall of grey smoke coming from the south side.
"You could see a large plume of dark grey smoke."
A woman who answered the phone at the London Heliport, in Battersea, would not comment on the fire.
The incident caused gridlock as roads were closed at the height of the rush hour.
Visibility was apparently low with London City Airport in Docklands reporting delays. The top of the tower block was obscured by mist.
Paul Ferguson, who was working in an office near the incident, told BBC News: "There was a flash and the helicopter plunged to the ground. It exploded and you can imagine the smoke coming out of it.
"It was probably heading from the nearby heliport. 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."
Eyewitness Chris Matthison told BBC News: "There was some damage to the crane. It's possible the crane is lying across Nine Elms road.
"The top of the nearest building is steeped in mist and difficult to see."
He added: "I heard a very unusual dull thud, then there was silence. The silence really took my imagination. Emergency services responded very quickly."
Erin Rogers was waiting at a bus stop outside Vauxhall station.
He said: "It was a bit surreal actually. I just had a coffee in my hand, I looked up, heard a bang and saw bits of crane debris falling to the floor.
"Then the helicopter was in flames. The rest of the people at the bus station were looking on going 'What was that?'.
"It's something I will never forget for a long time."
Sarah-Beth Casey lives in an apartment near the incident.
She told Sky News: "You're always worried about things like 9/11 and things like that. I have three small children with me in the flat. It's one of your fears that something like this can happen.
"When I heard the explosion - it was like a little earthquake."
She went on: "It was like a gas explosion. I looked up to see debris falling off the tower."
She added: "I can't see any people on the ground, it seems to be a lucky escape. The police and ambulance response was incredible."
Matt Haverson was doing construction work on railway arches near the incident. He said there was a good "pull together" with people attempting to extinguish small fires and escort other people away.
He said: "It was extremely scary… I obviously thought it was a terrorist attack."
The crane was on top of a building called The Tower, in the St George Wharf development, and is billed to be one of Europe's tallest residential towers.
The building is only a few hundred metres from MI6 and is situated on a busy roundabout.
Eyewitness Michael Gavin saw the accident while he was standing at Vauxhall station.
"I was facing the building when it happened and I heard a loud bang," he told BBC News.
"The top of the crane was actually obscured by fog so I didn't see the impact. But I heard a bang and saw the body of the helicopter falling to the ground along with pieces of the crane and then a large plume of smoke afterwards."
Vauxhall Underground station, on the Victoria line, was closed, leading to disruption to services on the line.
Road congestion spread out from the scene of the crash - reaching Clapham, Kennington, Wandsworth, Lambeth and Battersea.
Chris Yates, an independent aviation expert, told Sky News: "Helicopters are not supposed to come within 500 feet of any structure such as a high-rise building, so we don't know what caused the pilot to get quite so close.
"We don't know the circumstances he was operating in at the time - whether there was a problem with the helicopter itself, whether he misread his instructions or received false instructions from air traffic control."
A Transport for London (TfL) spokesman said: "Following a helicopter crash in the Vauxhall area, there are several road closures and a number of bus routes in the area are on diversion.
"Road users are advised to avoid the area and seek alternative routes. Vauxhall Tube station is currently closed at police request and Victoria line services are not stopping at the station.
"All other Tube services are unaffected and are accepting bus tickets.
"We are working closely with the emergency services, who are responding to the incident.
"Road users and passengers can get up-to-the-minute travel information by following @tfltravelalerts, @tfltrafficnews and @tflbusalerts on Twitter."
A Department for Transport spokesman said: "We are aware of an incident in central London. Emergency services are in attendance.
"We are monitoring the situation closely and the independent Air Accidents Investigation Branch are preparing to send a team of inspectors to the site to determine the circumstances behind this incident."