Police name first victims of Glasgow helicopter crash
POLICE have named one of the eight people confirmed dead after a police helicopter crashed through the roof of a packed Glasgow music pub.
Scottish Police confirmed the name of the first victim of the helicopter crash was 48-year-old Gary Arthur, from the Paisley area.
And according to local reports the other two victims identified so far were the helicopter pilot David Traill, 51, a former RAF flight lieutenant and police officer Kirsty Nelis.
Emergency service sources said there could be 10, or possibly as many as 20, people, alive or dead, inside.
It was feared that the death toll could rise when emergency services raise the wrecked aircraft from the shell of the Clutha, a bar in central Glasgow.
But police were not discounting the possibility that some people inside could still be alive, insisting that a rescue operation was still under way, although the chances appeared slim.
One grief-stricken man said yesterday he had been told that his father had been sitting in his favourite spot at the bar when the helicopter crashed down on top of him. He planned to stay outside the Clutha until he learned the fate of his father for certain.
Police confirmed that all those on board the helicopter – a civilian pilot and two police officers – were killed, along with at least five revellers in the pub on Friday night. Fourteen people were in a serious condition in hospitals yesterday, but 18 others who were treated had been allowed home.
Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, described it yesterday as a “black day for Glasgow and also for Scotland”.
The Air Accident Investigations Branch and Police Scotland both launched inquiries into the crash. Helicopter operator Bond Air Services said in a statement that it was “deeply saddened” by the incident and was working with the authorities.
Witnesses spoke of hearing the helicopter's engine spluttering as the aircraft descended rapidly on to the pub's roof.
The crash will add to pressure on the Government to look into the safety of helicopters. Only last week, the Transport minister Robert Goodwill rejected calls for a full-scale public inquiry into offshore helicopter safety.
From the outside, the Clutha – appeared to be intact yesterday, but the inside was described as a mess of mangled metal, dust and debris. Rescue workers covered the roof and helicopter with a protective tarpaulin.
At a press conference yesterday, Sir Stephen House, chief constable of Police Scotland, said that the “very complicated and, indeed, dangerous” rescue operation would continue through the night and into today. He said that it was not known how many people were inside.
“The helicopter is in there and it is dominating the whole space within the building,” Sir Stephen said, standing just outside the cordoned-off area around the pub. “Until it is out of the way, we won't know everything that is going on underneath the helicopter. We simply can't say what the situation is at this moment definitively.”
He added: “I have to ask you to imagine the situation where the helicopter has come down and is literally sitting in the middle of the building. Until that is resolved, we can't know everything that is in that building.”
Dogs from the Trossachs Search and Rescue charity were brought in on Friday night to search the wreckage, but they were stood down at about 6am on Saturday morning. Fibre-optic cameras, specialist sound equipment and carbon-dioxide indicators to detect human breath were also used.
There had been a party atmosphere in the Clutha on Friday, with the ska band Esperanza in full swing, when, at about 10.25pm, the helicopter crashed through the roof on to the bar, filling the room with blinding, choking dust. Some initially thought that a bomb had gone off.
Eyewitnesses in the pub described how they saw the bar “buckle” before collapsing, completely crushing people below. They said the bar went dark and filled with clouds of dust that made it hard to see and breathe.
Despite chaotic scenes, people in the pub, including some who were injured, and passers-by from outside helped to rescue people from the wreckage until emergency services arrived.
Kenny Hamilton, a 48-year-old painter and decorator, told The Independent on Sunday yesterday that he had been “knocked sideways” by the gantry above the bar when the helicopter hit. He was pulled out of the wreckage and then, despite suspected cracked ribs, he helped several people lift the shattered bar so that another injured man trapped beneath it could be taken to safety.
Echoing earlier comments by Mr Salmond, Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to “the bravery of the ordinary Glaswegians who rushed to help”, and emergency services personnel “who worked tirelessly throughout the night”.
Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson described the crash as “heartbreaking”, but nevertheless took some comfort from the response. “When there is trouble and people need assistance, the people of Glasgow head towards those situations,” he said yesterday. “The motto of the city of Glasgow is 'People make Glasgow'. That was at no better time demonstrated than last night and in the period since.”
Flags flew at half-mast across the city and the annual St Andrew's Day celebrations in the central George Square were cancelled. Throughout the day, a steady stream of people arrived to lay flowers on the pavement outside the Holiday Express hotel, a few yards down the street from the scene but as close as police would let them.
In a personal statement, the Queen added her condolences, saying that she was “saddened to learn of the dreadful helicopter crash”.
The names of the dead were understandably slow to emerge. But a clearly distressed John McGarrigle, 38, standing outside the Clutha, said he had been told by an eyewitness that his father, also John McGarrigle, 59, was sitting “right in the spot” where the helicopter hit.
“The realisation, and just a deep instinct kicked in right away as soon as I heard there was an accident at Clutha. I just knew something bad had happened to him,” he told BBC News at the scene. “When I came round and seen where the position of the helicopter [was], that was when I knew, because he sat in that spot all the time, where the 'copter hit. I am still shaking. I could walk in there and pinpoint him myself in the rubble.”
Mr McGarrigle said he had checked every hospital with no sign of his father and planned to stand outside the Clutha until he saw that all the casualties were removed from the pub.
The Clutha – the name means “Clyde” in Gaelic – is a popular bar in the centre of Glasgow known as one of the city's best music venues. It was once a favourite venue for Billy Connolly when he was starting out as a comedian.
Ska band Esperanza's bass player and general manager, Jessica Combe, said yesterday that they were “waking up and realising that it is all definitely horribly real”.
“Despite the situation, everyone was so helpful and caring of each other,” she said in a statement. “The police, ambulances, firefighters all did a stellar job and continue to do so Today in extremely difficult conditions.”
A statement on the Clutha's Facebook page said that it had been “an event beyond comprehension and belief”. It read: “Our heartfelt sorrow to all of the families of those who perished.”
- Paul Kelbie and Ian Johnston, Independent.co.uk
Independent News Service