Smoke from a burning helicopter which crashed rises above
Vauxhall in central London. REUTERS/Victor Jimenez via
A helicopter crashed into a crane on top of one of
Europe's tallest residential blocks, killing two people as it
burst into flames and spiralled down into rush-hour traffic
close to the Houses of Parliament in central London.
Police said there was nothing to suggest a terrorism link to
the crash on a foggy morning on the south bank of the River
Thames, less than a mile from Britain's parliament, its
secret services headquarters and the site of a new U.S.
In parliament, later in the day, Prime Minister David Cameron
said helicopter flights over a city with an increasing number
of huge skyscrapers needed to be carefully examined.
"There was a big bang and bits started showering down, then
there was an explosion down the road," said truck driver Ray
Watts whose vehicle was hit by falling debris.
"We saw the fireball down there and the smoke. We didn't know
what way to run because there were bits coming down
Witnesses said the helicopter hit a crane on top of the
as-yet unoccupied 185-metre (200-yard) high cylindrical block
- The Tower, One St George Wharf - spun out of control, fell
to the ground and burst into flames, setting nearby buildings
Wreckage was strewn across roads close to Vauxhall train
station, a major transport hub near the south bank of the
River Thames, which was packed with thousands of commuters at
the time of the incident shortly after 0800 GMT.
A Reuters reporter at the scene said tangled bits of crane
could be seen hanging off the side of the tower, the top of
which was still shrouded by low cloud an hour after the
"It is something of a miracle that this was not many, many
times worse given the time of day that this happened," police
Commander Neil Basu told reporters. The fire service said it
had rescued one man from a burning car.
Basu said the helicopter was believed to be on a commercial
flight from Redhill, south of the capital, to Elstree, home
to famous British film studios north of London, but had been
diverted to a heliport near the crash site.
He said there were 13 casualties. The pilot was one of those
killed and it was not thought anyone else was on board. One
other person was found dead near the wreckage.
The helicopter involved was an Italian-made twin-engined
AgustaWestland 109, the company's best selling VIP corporate
helicopter, according to a source familiar with the
Edmir Pishtar, who was in a van outside the site, said he
spoke to the operator who was about to get into the crane
"He was literally shaking because he was getting ready to
climb into the crane and he was late," Pishtar said.
Roads around the area including a route over the Thames were
closed off, and bus and rail services were affected.
The Department of Transport's crash investigation unit said
it had launched an inquiry and it could be several months
before it produced a definitive report.
Neither the tower's developer, Berkeley Group, nor police
would speculate on the cause of the crash.
Helicopters should normally fly 500 feet (150 metres) above
tall structures. Despite its proximity to landmarks such as
the headquarters of Britain's MI6 international intelligence
agency, police quickly ruled out an attack by militants.
"There's nothing to suggest any terrorism link," said a
spokesman for London's Counter Terrorism Command.
A local lawmaker said authorities should re-examine where and
how helicopters were allowed to fly over the capital, where a
number of skyscrapers - including the Shard, the highest
building in western Europe - have been built in recent years.
Helicopters in London are generally supposed to fly along the
River Thames and the nearby London City Airport said its
flights had been disrupted due to low visibility.
"I'm sure they (helicopter flights) will be looked at as part
of the investigations that will take place," Cameron said.
Builder Brookfield Multiplex said the tower's 52 floors house
212 luxury flats which media reports have suggested could
sell for as much as 50 million pounds