| 10.6°C Dublin

Copter inferno after pilot hits high-rise crane

THESE were the horror scenes in London today when a helicopter hit a crane and crashed to the ground.

Two people died as the stricken aircraft exploded into flames after hitting the crane, on top of a tower block by the River Thames, before crashing into a street during rush hour.

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

The Metropolitan Police said two people died at the scene and two had been taken to hospital.The rush-hour drama happened in the Vauxhall area and it is believed the pilot was the only person on board.







SMOKE



London fire services sent 22 appliances to the scene as plumes of smoke billowed over a wide area.

It is thought the helicopter may have hit two cars. Video footage shot on a mobile phone showed an entire road blocked by burning wreckage and aviation fuel.

Witnesses described seeing the helicopter cartwheeling before it ignited.

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

She told Sky News: "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."

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. It's something I will never forget for a long time."

Paul Ferguson, who was working in an office nearby, said: "There was a flash and the helicopter plunged to the ground.

It was probably heading from the nearby heliport."

Fire and rescue services were inundated with calls from eyewitnesses as the grey plume of smoke towered into the sky close to Battersea Bridge at around 8am.

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.

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."

The Augusta 109 twin-engined eight-seater helicopter is believed to have had only one person on board.

One Twitter user immediately posted a dramatic photograph showing burning wreckage in the road.

Passers-by stood watching as the wreckage burned.

The area, roughly ten 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 busses or trains there.

"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.

Gary Slater, a helicopter expert, told BBC News that flying a helicopter in London is very safe.

"It is monitored by Heathrow radar, which is one of the best in the world," he said.

But Mr Slater added that today's weather conditions were difficult.

"Flying in fog is one of the worst things in a helicopter," he said, adding that the helicopter would have been capable of flying in these conditions.

"My first thoughts are for the pilot and his family. It is a very close-knit community, and accidents are very rare in a helicopter."

csheehy@herald.ie