View Comments
Two dead in London chopper crash
Two dead in London chopper crash

Update, 12.25am: A helicopter has crashed during rush hour in central London, killing two people and injuring nine, after it apparently hit a construction crane before exploding into flames.

The helicopter crashed just south of the River Thames near the Underground and mainline train station at Vauxhall, and British spy agency, MI6.

Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe confirmed that there were two deaths, one person critically injured and a number of others with less serious injuries.

The pilot of the helicopter was named by sources as Pete Barnes, 50.

Mr Barnes, who has piloted helicopters in action scenes in movies Die Another Day, Tomb Raider II and Saving Private Ryan, worked for flight operator RotorMotion.

Mr Barnes was the only person aboard the AgustaWestland 109 Power when spun out of control and crash-landed near Vauxhall station after he attempted to divert the aircraft to a helipad due to bad weather.

Burning wreckage and aviation fuel covered the road as eyewitnesses reported seeing cars on fire and hearing people screaming.

The crash happened in South Lambeth. The area, roughly 10 blocks from the major Waterloo train and Underground station, is extremely congested during the morning rush hour. Many commuters arrive at the main line stations from London’s southern suburbs and transfer to buses or trains there.

Eight fire engines, four fire rescue units and around 60 firefighters plus officers attended the scene of the crash.

London Fire Brigade said firefighters rescued a man from a burning car and brought a blaze caused by the crash under control.

The brigade was called at 8am local time to a report of a crash on Wandsworth Road on the south bank of the Thames.

One of the first firefighters on the scene said it was “absolute chaos”, but revealed that the helicopter blaze was extinguished within 20 minutes.

Station Officer Bruce Grain said the helicopter had clipped the crane, spun out of control and crash-landed, hitting several vehicles.

“It burst into flames, which spread to adjacent buildings,” he said.

“I could see smoke from a mile away. There was absolute chaos. The helicopter was still alight, part of the rotor blade was on the roof of nearby buildings.

“We were aware that the helicopter could have had a full tank of fuel, but we just used water.”

Grain said there were two incidents, with firefighters checking the crane for damage.

Eyewitness and mother-of-five Sharon Moore, who lives on the Wyvil Estate, said she saw the aircraft slice through the crane “as if it was a piece of paper”.

The 36-year-old woman, who was with her nine-year-old daughter Tiah, described hearing four bangs and watching two cars explode.

“My daughter was so traumatised, it was so shocking,” she said. “It sounded like a massive explosion, like something whining in the sky and then it just went bang.

“You couldn’t see a lot at first because of the fog. The helicopter did not seem to know which way to turn and then it just dropped, it sliced, screeching into the metal.

“I called the police and they got there in seconds. We could then see them trying to pull people out of the cars.”

The chopper struck a crane before bursting into flames. Picture: Getty Images

She described seeing what appeared to be body bags.

“We saw someone pulled out and they were covered.”

She said the incident “like something out of an action movie”.

“We saw the helicopter falling out of the sky, loads of smoke as it landed.

“It went bang. Another car went bang. There was lots of smoke and debris.”

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.”

Sarah-Beth Casey lives in an apartment near the incident.

Onlookers at the scene of the chopper crash. Picture: AP

She told Sky News: “When I heard the explosion - it was like a little earthquake.

“It was like a gas explosion. I looked up to see debris falling off the tower.

“I can’t see any people on the ground, it seems to be a lucky escape. The police and ambulance response was incredible.”

Erin Rogers was waiting at a bus stop outside Vauxhall station.

He told BBC News: “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.”

“There are tons of emergency services about, and it looks like a helicopter hit a crane of one of the apartment buildings being constructed round there,” said Jon Hoeksma, a local businessman.

Chris Yates, an independent aviation expert, told Sky News: “Helicopters are not supposed to come within 500 feet (152 metres) 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.”

He said the weather may have played a role. Investigators also would look at whether the crane had navigation lights.

"The question then becomes whether the pilot was fit,” Yates said.

“We had a call at approximately 8am this morning and we are dealing with an incident,” a police spokesman said.

The crash was causing long tailbacks on roads during the morning rush hour.

The scene of a helicopter crash in central London. Picture: Nic Walker/Twitter