GLASGOW: At least one person was killed by a police helicopter crash that wrecked a busy Glasgow pub, with the death toll set to rise Saturday as rescuers battled to find survivors.
The chopper smashed into the roof of The Clutha pub, where more than 100 revelers had packed in to watch a band play on Friday night ahead of St. Andrew’s Day, Scotland’s national day celebrating its patron saint.
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond called it a “black day” for the nation as emergency service workers tried to make the one-story building secure enough to permit full access to the scene.
Police said 32 people had been taken by ambulance to three hospitals across Scotland’s biggest city after the helicopter plunged into the city center bar at 10:25 p.m. (2225 GMT).
“Sadly I can also confirm one fatality. We expect that number to increase over the coming hours,” Police Scotland Chief Constable Stephen House told reporters.
“Given the damage caused and the nature of the damage, it will take some time to complete the search of the building.” Asked if there were people still alive trapped inside, House replied: “We can’t say that definitively at this moment in time.”
Witnesses said the helicopter, with two police officers and a civilian pilot on board, dropped like a stone, while people inside the pub heard a whoosh before the roof caved in and the air filled with dust and screams.
Emergency services worked through the night in a bid to recover people from the wreckage.
An AFP photographer at the scene said the helicopter appeared to have smashed through the top of the bar, with a rotor blade sticking out of the roof. The site by the banks of the River Clyde had been cordoned off, with emergency service workers visible on the roof Saturday. A tarpaulin had been placed over the area where the helicopter hit.
“We’re still in a search and recovery phase, and as always our prayers are that it is successful and we do recover people alive,” House said.
“There are people on the scene trying to make contact with anyone who may be alive. It is an unclear situation.”
A somber Salmond — who just days earlier was celebrating the release of a legal blueprint for Scottish independence — sent his condolences to the bereaved and solidarity to those injured.
“This is a black day for Glasgow and for Scotland. But it’s also St. Andrew’s Day and it’s a day we can take pride and courage in how we respond to adversity and tragedy,” the nationalist leader said.
He praised the “instinctive courage of ordinary Glaswegians going to assist their fellow citizens in extremity.” The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has sent a team to the scene to try to work out why the Eurocopter EC135 T2 helicopter crashed.
Witnesses told of confusion, terror and then bravery after the accident.
Grace MacLean, who was inside the pub at the time of the crash, told the BBC that the revellers were listening to a ska band. “We were all just having a nice time and then there was like a ‘whoosh’ noise — there was no bang, there was no explosion,” she said.
“And then there was some smoke, what seemed like smoke. The band were laughing and we were all joking that the band had made the roof come down.
“They carried on playing and then it started to come down more and someone started screaming and then the whole pub just filled with dust. You couldn’t see anything, you couldn’t breathe.”
The nine-piece band, Esperanza, said on their Facebook page that they were all well.
“Despite the situation everyone was so helpful and caring of each other. The police, ambulances, firefighters all did a stellar job,” they said.
Britain’s former Europe minister Jim Murphy told the BBC he was driving through the area shortly after the incident.
“I jumped out and tried to help. There were people with injuries. Bad gashes to the head. Some were unconscious. I don’t know how many,” he said, his shirt bloodied.
Murphy, who is the opposition Labour Party’s international development spokesman, said he and others formed a human chain to get survivors out of the bar.
“The helicopter was inside the pub. It’s a mess. I could only get a yard or two inside. I helped carry people out.”
Gordon Smart, who edits the Scottish edition of The Sun newspaper, said he saw the helicopter coming down.
“It looked like it was dropping from a great height at a great speed,” he told Sky News television.
“There was no fireball and I did not hear an explosion. It fell like a stone. The engine seemed to be spluttering.”