Vauxhall crash helicopter was diverted due to weather

Londoners terrified as helicopter crashes into crane and ignites fireball in Vauxhall street

LAST UPDATED AT 11:09 ON Wed 16 Jan 2013

THE PILOT of a helicopter that crashed into a crane in Vauxhall, South London this morning killing two people and injuring 18, had asked to divert his aircraft to Battersea heliport because of bad weather, it has been revealed.

Police believe one of the people killed was the pilot of the helicopter which was on a scheduled flight from Redhill in Surrey to Elstree.

The incident occurred at about 8am this morning when the aircraft – believed to be a lightweight 8-seater AgustaWestland AW109 - hit a crane on top of a building called The Tower, part of the St George Wharf development. The stricken helicopter crashed into the street below, igniting a large fire and sending plumes of thick smoke into the air. Several cars caught fire and wreckage from the helicopter was scattered on the roofs of nearby buildings.

It is understood the crane operator was late for work and was not in the crane at the time of the accident.

Dispatch courier Michael Krumstets, 45, was on his way to work when he saw the helicopter hit the crane. The fuselage came "hurtling" towards him and landed just feet away, he told The Guardian.

"The helicopter nearly killed me and my flatmate," he said. "We were right next to it, just feet away from where it exploded.

"When you see a helicopter hurtling out of the sky towards you, spinning, your legs turn to jelly, you have a sense of shock. My flatmate fell over, I had to run back to grab him. It missed us by just a few feet, it was just so lucky."

Another eyewitness Michael Gavin, who was standing outside Vauxhall station when the accident happened, told the BBC he heard a "loud bang", but didn’t see the impact because the crane was obscured by fog. Gavin said he "saw the body of the helicopter falling to the ground along with pieces of the crane".

Conservative MP Nicky Morgan says she wondered if "it was a bomb explosion" when she saw the thick plume of smoke rising from the crash scene. But police have said there is no suggestion the crash was an act of terrorism.

Rescue services got to the scene quickly with about 60 firefighters attending. Bruce Grain, station manager from the London Fire Brigade, told BBC Radio 5 Live his teams were on the scene "within four minutes" of receiving the alert. Grain said the fire caused by the crashed helicopter spread to buildings along the road and firemen rescued a man from a burning car. All the fires had been brought under control before 10am.

Rescue services said Londoners should not be worried about pollutants in the air following the accident. · 

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