Scottish emergency services battled on Saturday to rescue people trapped in the wreckage of a Glasgow pub after a police helicopter crashed into the building, causing dozens of casualties including probable fatalities.
The chopper smashed through the roof of The Clutha pub, where more than 100 revelers had crowded in to see a band play on Friday night ahead of St. Andrew’s Day, which celebrates Scotland’s patron saint.
Police said 32 people had been taken to hospitals across Scotland’s biggest city after the helicopter plunged into the riverside bar at 10:25 p.m.
Emergency services worked through the night in a bid to recover people from the scene.
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.
Firefighters said they had made “some contact” with an unknown number of people in the wreckage of the one-storey building, which was “very unstable”.
“It’s a case of working hard within the building to try and determine how many casualties are there,” fire brigade officer Lewis Ramsay told reporters.
“We are determined that we are going to get the building stable and we will be in there to carry out those rescued.”
Ramsay said the 125 firefighters at the scene had “rescued numerous casualties” who had “multiple types of injuries”.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond—who just days earlier was celebrating the release of a legal blueprint for independence—confirmed that a police helicopter had been involved in the “tragic accident”.
“Given an incident of this scale we must all prepare ourselves for the likelihood of fatalities,” he said.
He was to visit the command center coordinating the emergency response later Saturday for an update on the situation.
An Agence France-Presse photographer at the scene said the helicopter appeared to have smashed through the top of the bar on the banks of the River Clyde, with a rotor blade sticking out of the roof.
The site had been cordoned off, with emergency service workers visible on the roof after dawn.
Police officer Rose Fitzgerald said it was too early to say why the Eurocopter EC135 T2 helicopter crashed.
“A full investigation is now underway however at this early stage it is too early to provide details on why the helicopter came down,” she said.
“We are working hard to recover people still inside the building.”
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has sent a team to the scene.
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 revelers were listening to a ska band at the time.
“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 was 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 band, Esperanza, later said on their Facebook page that they were all well.
Jim Murphy, a member of parliament and the opposition Labour Party’s spokesman for international development, 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.
He said he and other people formed a human chain to get survivors out of the pub.
“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 Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper The Sun, said he saw the helicopter coming down.
“It was just such a surreal moment. 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.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “My thoughts are with everyone affected by the helicopter crash in Glasgow—and the emergency services.” AFP