‘It’s all too much to take in... the Clutha was my second home’

Glaswegians pay their respects to victims of the city’s worst accident in living memory

Rescue workers prepare to lift the wreckage of a police helicopter that crashed into a pub in central Glasgow. Photograph: Reuters

Rescue workers prepare to lift the wreckage of a police helicopter that crashed into a pub in central Glasgow. Photograph: Reuters

Tue, Dec 3, 2013, 13:12

Heads bowed, arms by their sides, two rows of uniformed fire fighters, police officers and ambulance crew formed an impromptu guard of honour in Glasgow on Monday lunchtime as the remains of the latest victims were recovered from the Clutha bar, scene of Friday’s helicopter crash.

Two hours earlier, the wreckage of the Police Scotland aircraft had been winched from the roof of the popular bar near the banks of the River Clyde, allowing rescue workers full access to a site that has claimed at least nine lives.

All day Glaswegians came to pay their respects to victims of the city’s worst accident in living memory. In ones and twos, they filed past the police crash barriers, laying wreaths and tributes outside the Holiday Inn hotel, across the road from the screened-off Clutha premises.

Among those grieving was Andy Logan. “It’s all too much to take in right now,” Logan, 65, a Clutha regular told The Irish Times as he paid his first visit to the scene, flowers in hand, yesterday afternoon. “The Clutha was my second home.”

A musician, Logan frequently played in sessions in the Clutha. He was not among the 100 people estimated to have been in the bar Friday to hear ska group Esperanza – “the only reason I didn’t go was because I don’t like ska” – but his friend, and longtime drinking companion, John McGarrigle was.

“John was a good boy. A really cheery fellow.” A well-known local poet, McGarrigle has been missing since the Eurocopter EC-135 crashed into the one-storey bar at 22.25 on Friday night.

Police have so far named five of the nine confirmed victims. Pilot David Traill, 51, died along with police officers Kirsty Nelis, 36, and Tony Collins, 43, in the helicopter. Two victims who were inside the pub have been named as 48-year-old Gary Arthur, from Paisley, and Samuel McGhee, 56, from Glasgow. Of the 32 people injured in the crash, 12 remain in hospital.

“I’m just sad for the people who went out for a pint and didn’t come back,” said Bill Murray, from the Glasgow suburb of Balornock. “It’s so hard to take in. You never think this could happen.”

Murray and his wife Alice had travelled into the city center to survey the damage left by the crash. “It’s a pilgrimage for me,” said Alice Murray. “I had to come down and see it and say be part of it, to do my own wee bit.”

Speaking from the scene yesterday afternoon, a clearly emotional Philip Tartaglia, Archbishop of Glasgow, expressed his ‘admiration’ for the work of rescue services.

Some victims’ relatives, however, have criticised the length of time it took to remove the helicopter’s cockpit embedded in the roof of the Clutha.

‘I thought if they had made a better attempt on the Saturday night, I thought they perhaps could have got them out a lot earlier than they did, but I think they were more concerned about this helicopter,’ Ian O’Prey, 68, whose son Mark, 44, is feared dead, told BBC Radio Scotland yesterday morning.

“Communication was dreadful. I’m sure they could have got the bodies out quicker,” Mr O’Prey said.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service assistant chief officer David Goodhew said that the operation has been particularly challenging because “the building had been totally devastated”.

The cause of the crash is still unknown. Dave Miller, deputy chief inspector of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, confirmed eyewitness reports that the helicopter “dropped like a stone” and said that it did not send out a mayday call before it hit the Clutha. Although the aircraft did not have a ‘black box’ flight recorder on board, the wreckage, which has been taken away for analysis, could provide vital clues for investigators.

Glasgow and its citizens have displayed much of the city’s fabled spirit in the wake of the disaster. Within hours of the crash, the Central Mosque, just over the river from the bar, had opened its doors to victims. Taxis have offered free transport to relatives visiting the injured in hospital. A benefit concert, proposed by actor Colin McCredie, has attracted the support from a host of Scottish celebrities.

Glasgow City Council has said it will provide financial help to the injured and bereaved. “There will be people who are unable to work or who face a lengthy road to recovery,” council leader Gordon Matheson told reporters. “Families face uncertain times ahead without loved ones. We can and will help them in the days, weeks and months ahead.”