London chopper crash kills two, including pilot
Authorities in London say a helicopter crash during Wednesday morning's commute killed two people, including the pilot.PT0M0S 620 349
LONDON: That only two people died when a two-tonne helicopter crashed on to a busy central London road during the morning peak hour was nothing short of ''miraculous'', police said on Wednesday.
Emergency workers who scrambled to the scene on Wandsworth Road in Vauxhall expected the death toll to be ''much, much worse'', but instead they came across a series of astonishingly narrow escapes, including a baby who was inches from death when a piece of wreckage smashed through his parents' car roof on to the seat next to him.
The driver of a crane was two minutes late for his shift when the Agusta 109 helicopter crashed into it. Otherwise, he would have been in his cabin at the time of the impact.
Rush-hour chaos ... firefighters rescued a man from a burning car that was struck by the falling helicopter. Photo: Getty Images
Several car drivers climbed out of the burning wreckage of their vehicles with only minor injuries.
Fate contrived an extraordinary set of circumstances to limit the death toll to the helicopter pilot and a pedestrian, including a red traffic light that kept the crash site almost entirely clear of vehicles.
''It doesn't take a great deal of imagination to think what would have happened if that helicopter had crashed onto a bus or a heavily occupied building,'' the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said.
The helicopter crashed after striking a crane mounted on top of one of London's tallest housing developments. Photo: Bloomberg
''I'm absolutely astonished there were not more casualties to be honest,'' said one senior fire officer who was among the first on the scene. Commander Neil Basu, of the Metropolitan Police, added: ''It was something of a miracle that this was not many, many times worse.''
The pilot was Pete Barnes, 50, a married father of two who had won an award for bravery while flying an air ambulance and was described by colleagues as the best pilot they knew.
The victim on the ground was Matthew Wood, 39, an administrator for Rentokil, who was on his way to work at its offices nearby when he was hit by debris.
Helicopter crashes during London's rush hour
A helicopter crashed just south of the River Thames near the British spy agency, MI6, killing at least two people. Photo: AP
Mr Barnes had set off in freezing temperatures from Redhill Aerodrome, just south of the M25, at 7.35am bound for Elstree aerodrome in Hertfordshire, where he was to pick up passengers and take them to a shooting party near Whitby, North Yorkshire.
After flying under a blanket of low cloud for 20 minutes, he was unable to land at Elstree because of fog, and asked national air traffic controllers at Swanwick in Hampshire if he could divert to Battersea heliport, next to the Thames.
What happened next is the subject of a Civil Aviation Authority investigation, but Battersea heliport did not establish contact with Mr Barnes after he was handed over to them by Swanwick.
Captain Pete Barnes worked in films. Photo: IBTimes screengrab
Just before 8am, his aircraft hit the jib of the giant crane on the St George's Wharf Tower development, which was partly obscured by fog.
Mr Barnes should have been at least 152 metres away from it, flying over the Thames on a strictly controlled helicopter route. Why he veered so far off course will be a large part of the investigation.
Remarkably, only 13 people were injured, with a broken leg and minor burns the worst of the injuries. Only six required hospital treatment.
The driver of the crane was making the 183-metre climb up its ladders when the helicopter struck. He had been held up while dropping his children off at school. Colleagues said they had never known him to be late before.
Paul Robinson, 42, a truck driver, said: ''He would have been wiped out if he had been on time. It was a very lucky escape.''
The crane operator, who had been harnessed to the structure, is thought to have been among those treated for shock.