Helicopter flight review expected following crash
Helicopter flight rules for London are expected to be overhauled following yesterday’s horrific crash which left two people dead, including the pilot, and 12 motorists and pedestrians injured.
Shortly after 8am the helicopter hit a crane atop One St George Wharf, which will be one of Europe’s highest residential buildings when it is completed, before erupting into a fireball and crashing to the ground.
Cars were set on fire as the helicopter’s high-octane fuel exploded. One car on the Wandsworth Road “simply disintegrated”, according to witnesses who said they heard people pleading for help. One motorcyclist who was unable to brake in time was badly burned.
“People were screaming. It was madness, absolute madness. There was smoke to the eyeballs,” said Craig Marchland, who had been travelling to work when the twin-engined, eight-seat August AW109 exploded.
Another witness, Michael Gavin, said he heard the helicopter but took no notice of it initially as they are a common sight travelling along the route of the river Thames to the Battersea heliport.
Fears of a terrorist attack, which were voiced in the minutes after the explosion – the site is just hundreds of yards from the headquarters of MI6, the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service – were quickly discounted by police.
Construction workers who were already working on the tower were evacuated. However, there was concern for a number of hours that the badly damaged crane could fall to the ground. Luckily, its operator had not been due to start work until 10am.
Local Labour MP Kate Hoey said helicopter flights would have to be restricted in central London: “Think of how dreadful it would have been if that helicopter . . . had landed on the huge apartments just beside. We would have been facing a major, major catastrophe.”
A succession of ever-higher towers has been built in London in recent years, including the Shard nearby at Tower Bridge, raising fears of further such collisions in years to come.
Under flight rules, the helicopter – which had taken off from Battersea heliport moments before – should not have come within 500ft of the Vauxhall tower, whose top half was shrouded in heavy early-morning fog at the time. The crane did not appear to have been fitted with a warning light, said Ms Hoey. “There are more helicopters around, we maybe need to look at whether somebody at some stage has become complacent, she added.
“It came spinning out of control towards us. I just can’t believe what I saw, it was just awful,” said commuter Michael Krumstets, who was walking to work with a friend when the helicopter crashed. “It missed us by just a few feet.”