Video: Workers cheated death in chopper crane crash after oversleeping
Published 17/01/2013 | 10:18
TWO workmen who should have been in a crane that was hit by a helicopter in central London escaped death by minutes because they overslept.
Richard Moule and Nicki Biagioni were late for work and hurrying to climb the crane in Vauxhall when the helicopter clipped the structure and plunged 700ft to the ground, killing pilot Peter Barnes.
A second man who died in the accident was named by Scotland Yard last night as Matthew Wood, 39, from Sutton, south London, who is believed to have been walking to work when he was killed.
Twelve other people were injured and police said it was a "miracle" more were not hurt when the helicopter fell to the busy rush-hour streets.
The crash happened at 8am yesterday near Vauxhall Station when an AgustaWestland 109 Power hit a high-rise crane at The Tower, One St George Wharf, one of Europe's largest skyscrapers.
Mr Moule, 31, a father of two from Harlow, Essex, was supposed to be at work at 7am with his colleague Mr Biagioni, 30, but both were late.
"It was the first time I've been late since starting this job three years ago. I just woke up late. Call it divine intervention if you like," Mr Moule said.
He said he was in the building's basement ready to go up when the accident happened and he was evacuated. He said: "The first thing I did was call my wife Stephanie and tell her, 'You'll be hearing about this but I'm OK.' She gave me a big hug when I got back home."
Mr Biagioni, from Ongar, Essex, was late because his four-year-old son, who usually wakes him up, slept in, The Sun said.
His wife Leanna told the paper he phoned her to say he should be dead. She said: "Nicki was at the site minutes before it happened. He gets a lift to a certain level and then climbs a ladder the rest of the way.
"If he'd been climbing he would have died from the fall for certain. It's too horrible to think about."
Paul Robinson told how he "panicked and ran" as debris from the helicopter and crane rained down around him.
He told ITV's Daybreak: "I pulled up the lorry, told the security guard I'm here.
"I went back to the lorry, sat down reading the paper waiting to go in and felt a shunt on the lorry.
"I thought a lorry driver, who I now know as Ray, had shunted the lorry. I went to get out to see what he had done.
"Debris was coming, so I just panicked and run. As I'm running, the jib of the crane just hit the ground.
"I just panicked and ran. I thought, 'Go'. You don't expect it in London."
Mr Robinson told how once his nerves had calmed, he rang his wife who was oblivious to the drama.
He added: "I said, 'I'm okay', and she said, 'You're okay for what?'. I said, 'I nearly got hit by the crane', and she said, 'I'm not watching the news'. She was taking the kids to school."
Stunt pilot Mr Barnes, 50, from Berkshire, who has piloted helicopters for movies such as Die Another Day, was alone in the aircraft amid thick cloud when it clipped the crane. It came down on land near to the building, with burning wreckage strewn across the road.
The helicopter was undertaking a commercial flight from Redhill, Surrey, to Elstree, Hertfordshire, but Mr Barnes asked to be diverted to Battersea heliport because of bad weather.
Witnesses described hearing a loud bang and a flash of light as the twin-engine aircraft crashed near Wandsworth Road. Video footage and photos flooded on to social media sites revealing chaotic scenes, burning wreckage and vehicles charred by flames.
Mother-of-five Sharon Moore, who lives on the nearby Wyvil Estate, said she saw the aircraft slice through the crane "as if it was a piece of paper".
She said: "The helicopter did not seem to know which way to turn and then it just dropped, it sliced, screeching into the metal."
Traffic chaos ensued in the wake of the incident as several roads were partially closed, with Vauxhall's underground, railway and bus stations closed for a short time.
Residents from nearby houses in Lambeth and Wandsworth were not allowed to return home last night after debris was scattered over a large area, including on rooftops. The situation would be reviewed at midday today, a police spokesman added.
Staff at Redhill Aerodrome confirmed the helicopter left the site at 7.35am, while the owner of London Heliport said Mr Barnes requested to land at one of its sites via Heathrow air traffic control.
But the Heliport never established contact with the pilot and shortly before 8am the emergency services started to receive hundreds of calls reporting the crash.
London Fire Brigade station manager Bruce Grain, one of the first firefighters at the scene, said it "was absolute chaos" as residents were evacuated but revealed the fire was put out within 20 minutes.
Six fire engines, four fire rescue units, other specialist vehicles and 88 firefighters attended the scene of the crash, a few hundred yards from the future American embassy site. Around 60 police officers also attended the scene.
In the aftermath of the crash, questions were raised over the safety of aircraft flying over London, especially as the number of high-rise blocks being built increases. But sources said lights fitted to the crane were in place and were checked twice daily - including on Tuesday.
Commander Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police said: "It was something of a miracle that this was not many, many times worse."
Family liaison officers are with the victims' relatives and post-mortem examinations will take place at a later date, Scotland Yard said.
The eight-seater helicopter is owned by Cornwall-based Castle Air but was leased to another firm RotorMotion, which is based at Redhill Aerodrome.
Captain Philip Amadeus, managing director of RotorMotion, an executive helicopter charter business, said the aircraft was on a commercial flight to Elstree.
He said: "Our main priority now is for the family of the pilot and we extend our greatest sympathy to the friends and relatives of those who have died and been injured."
Tributes have been paid to Mr Barnes. Kevin Hodgson, who worked alongside him on life-saving missions with the Great North Air Ambulance (GNAA), said: "Pete was as good a guy as you can imagine and one of the best pilots I've ever had the pleasure of flying with."
Mr Barnes, who also flew aircraft for films Tomb Raider II and Saving Private Ryan, had around 9,000 hours of flying time, including 3,500 hours on the type of craft involved in the incident.
A relative who answered the intercom at Mr Barnes's home in the small rural village of Goddard's Green near Mortimer, Berkshire, said she did not want to comment and asked that the family's privacy was respected.
Neighbour David Sinclair, 66, said Mr Barnes had two children and had lived in the area for four or five years.
"We saw the helicopter come and go every now and again, as he had a helipad in the garden and parked it there," he said. The accident is very sad. It's unbelievable, really."
In 2004, he carried out a daring rescue of a motorist from a flooded ford in County Durham while working for the GNAA.
More recently, he had been flying the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance (WNAA). Andy Williamson, chief executive of the WNAA, said: "Pete had worked with us for many years and will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with his family and with all the families affected by this tragedy."
RotorMotion's website has pictures of famous passengers including David Cameron, the Dalai Lama, Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole. The business has been operating for 15 years and describes itself as a "boutique helicopter charter business".
On its website, RotorMotion says: "Our helicopters have twin turbine engines and are certified to fly at night, over water and in cloud. Relax in the knowledge that both pilot and machine are fully instrument qualified to fly in poor weather conditions."
Weather forecasters said London City Airport reported a cloudbase of just 100ft (30.5m) at the time of the accident.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said helicopter regulations for flying over London included "requirements for lighting on tall structures".
The authority said: "In addition, where appropriate, very tall structures are also notified to pilots for flight planning purposes, as was the case with the crane that was involved in this morning's accident."
The Scotland Yard and the London Fire Brigade are working with other agencies including the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) and the CAA.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson said lighting of cranes and tall buildings will be reviewed, but that it would be "premature" to second guess the investigation into yesterday's accident.
Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the emergency services yesterday. Speaking in the Commons he said: "The whole House will wish to join with me in sending their thanks to the emergency services for their rapid and professional response to this situation."
Aviation expert Simon Mitchell, a friend of Mr Barnes, said he was "one of the best".
He told Daybreak: "As an industry, your peers judge you as well, and I think everybody in the industry would accept that Pete was one of the best.
"He was larger than life. Some characters are a little bit introverted and other guys are out there and fill a room, and Pete was one of those guys."
Dr Mitchell said he had doubts about reports that suggested the helicopter was out of control before striking the crane. He said: "I feel it may be a perception thing.
"This is depending on their viewpoint, they may have not appreciated the distance of the jib from the building itself.
"As soon as it made contact with that structure, it would have deviated from its flightpath."
He added: "He was a professional colleague and I think everyone will remember him as being somebody who contributed a lot to the helicopter industry, and he will be missed."