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Two die as helicopter hits crane
The scene where a helicopter crashed in central London after hitting a crane on top of a tower block by the River Thames (Victor Jimenez/PA)
Two people have died and nine people were injured after a helicopter crashed into a crane in central London and plummeted to the ground.
Witnesses reported seeing debris falling from the sky after the aircraft struck the crane before exploding into flames and plunging to a street near Vauxhall station in rush hour. Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe confirmed that there were two deaths, one person critically injured and a number of others with less serious injuries.
London Fire Brigade station manager Bruce Grain, one of the first firefighters at the scene, said it "was absolute chaos" but he revealed the fire was put out within 20 minutes. Eight fire engines, four fire rescue units and about 60 firefighters plus officers attended the scene of the crash, a few hundred yards from MI6, on a busy road.
Firefighters rescued a man from a burning car and brought a blaze caused by the crash under control. Four fire engines and two fire rescue units also attended reports of a crane in a precarious position. The brigade was called at 8am. The crane was on top of a building called The Tower in the St George Wharf development and is billed as one of Europe's tallest residential towers.
Video footage shot on a mobile phone showed an entire road blocked by burning wreckage and aviation fuel. The side of a building on one side of the street was also damaged by the flames. Passers-by stood watching as the wreckage burned. A motorcycle was seen lying on its side in the road where it was abandoned.
The aircraft is understood to be an AgustaWestland AW109, a lightweight, twin-engine helicopter with eight seats.
Steve Carslake told BBC Radio 5 Live that he saw a car explode with someone apparently trapped inside. Mr Carslake said he had got out of a van in Mill Street and saw the aircraft hit the crane. He said: "We heard someone was actually trapped in the car. We went to run towards the car and there was just a large explosion again."
The Met Police said they were "aware" of 11 casualties, including two dead. One person was taken to a south London hospital in a critical condition, three people suffering minor injuries were taken to south London hospitals and five people were treated at the scene for minor injuries.
There was some confusion around the number of people in the aircraft. It was earlier reported that it was flying between Gatwick and Elstree with two on board, but a spokesman for Gatwick later said the helicopter had not flown from the Sussex airport. A spokesman for the RNLI said London Coastguard was contacted by Battersea London Heliport, which confirmed it had lost contact with one of its aircraft. A lifeboat was launched from the Tower RNLI lifeboat station to search the Thames but is understood to have since stood down.
Traffic chaos broke out in the wake of the incident, with Vauxhall Bridge Road southbound closed, Wandsworth Road partially closed, Nine Elms Lane partially closed and South Lambeth Road partially closed. Vauxhall Tube, train and bus stations are also currently closed. Cloud in central London was very low at the time of the accident, according to MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association.