Scottish copter crash: At least 8 dead, but a ‘miracle’ more not killed

Story highlights

NEW: Police ask public to send recordings of crash

Newspaper editor who saw crash describes tumble of powerless police helicopter

Police chief: 8 people are confirmed dead; 14 remain seriously injured in the hospital

The pub was packed with Friday night drinkers when the helicopter crashed through the roof

CNN  — 

Authorities found eight bodies Saturday in the ruins of a Glasgow pub struck by a police helicopter and feared more would be discovered as they slowly explored the unstable building.

But it might have been much worse, according to a senior journalist who saw the crash.

The downtown Clutha Bar was packed with about 150 people listening to a band about 10:15 p.m. Friday, but far more people would have been endangered just a short walk away in Glasgow’s central shopping district, said Gordon Smart, editor of the Scottish Sun newspaper.

From a nearby parking deck, Smart watched the helicopter tumble into the bar and waited for an explosion and fireball. A blast might have killed hundreds in the busy area, Smart said.

Instead, he said, there was an “eerie silence.”

“I think it’s a miracle that more people didn’t die,” Smart told CNN.

Three perish on helicopter, at least five on ground

Three of the dead were two police officers and the civilian pilot of the helicopter, Chief Constable Stephen House of Police Scotland said. Five more victims had been inside the pub.

Fourteen people remain seriously injured in Glasgow hospitals, House said. Earlier, police said 32 in total were taken to local hospitals.

Glasgow police early Sunday announced that one body had been removed from the building, with more still inside.

“Safety work will continue during the evening to stabilize the building and helicopter to ensure a safe working environment for emergency personnel,” a police statement said.

The recovery operation will continue for “many days,” Chief Constable Stephen House of Police Scotland said. Police Scotland appealed the public for “any photographs, audio or video footage they have of the incident or surroundings areas.”

Authorities offered no theories on the cause of the crash.

Police Scotland used its Facebook page to appeal to the public for “any photographs, audio or video footage they have of the incident or surroundings areas.”

‘Fell from the sky like a stone’

Smart was on top of a six-story parking deck when he heard a gargling sound. It was “like a car running out of petrol but incredibly loud,” he said.

“I looked around, and in front of me, between 500 feet and 1,000 feet in the air, I could see a helicopter in distress. And then suddenly it just completely lost power and fell from the sky like a stone and tumbled over, nose over tail.”

From his vantage point in front of the pub, Smart could not see the helicopter after impact.

‘What I did see, and it’s something that will stick with me for the rest of my life, was Glaswegian people running toward the scene, not away from the scene. People running to help, not running away from what could have been a huge explosion,” Smart said.

Grief and pride

The head of the Scottish government, First Minister Alex Salmond, described it as a “black day for Glasgow and for Scotland.” Saturday was St. Andrew’s Day, Scotland’s national day.

But, he said, people should take heart from the swift response of emergency responders and the “instinctive courage of ordinary Glaswegians” in the face of adversity.

“As First Minister, it’s a day we can take great pride in how we’ve responded to this extraordinary tragedy,” he said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron extended his deepest sympathies to those who lost loved ones, and he praised emergency responders and “the bravery of ordinary Glaswegians who rushed to help.”

Surreal quiet before alarm

The helicopter struck the pub as patrons listened to the Esperanza band, which had just taken the stage. Patrons described a surreal quiet, followed by alarm.

“Most of the helicopter appeared to be inside the pub,” said Jim Murphy, a UK member of parliament who arrived at the site moments later and saw people scrambling out to get out. Murphy represents a portion of Glasgow.

Patrons described a surreal quiet, followed by alarm.

“We were watching the band and there was kind of like a (roof) panel fell, there was a whoosh of dust,” Grace Maclean said. “Then we laughed that the band said, ‘We didn’t think we were going to bring the roof down.”

“The roof didn’t come down. …It didn’t come completely down anyway,” Maclean said.

“No one had a clue,” she said. “There was no explosion. No bang. It was really quiet.”

But it quickly became apparent something was wrong, and amid the choking dust there was an outburst of noise from the patrons.

“Everyone was yelling (for) their friends,” Maclean said.

‘Blood pouring’

Band manager Gary Anderson described his bewilderment when he heard “a loud bang followed by lots of debris, smoke, stuff coming coming towards where I was standing at the door.”

People he knew pulled him outside into the street, he said, where he could see the rotor blades sticking out of the building’s roof.

“The fire brigade, paramedics, police were all there within minutes and everybody was just helping folk who could get out, just shouting on them because at this time you couldn’t really see much inside, you were just trying to help people out and shouting to them, ‘come here, come here’ towards the doors,” he said.

“There were people staggering out, there were lots of people coming out with blood pouring from their head and covered with all sorts of just debris from whatever it was had happened,” he said.

In a Facebook posting, the band indicated that all its members made it out safe.

“It seems that the band are all OK. Not so sure about everyone else,” the post said.

A later post, by the band’s bass guitar player, spoke of the realization “that it is all definitely horribly real. Despite the situation everyone was so helpful and caring of each other. The police, ambulances, firefighters all did a stellar job and continue to do so today in extremely difficult conditions.”

Smoke and people running

Christina O’Neill, who saw the crash from her apartment across the street, said she heard what sounded like a low-flying airplane.

“I thought that didn’t sound right for a couple of seconds,” she said.

After the sound of impact, she saw smoke and people running from the pub.

“I know there were a lot of people lying on the ground kind of getting looked into,” she said.

The pub’s Facebook page contained numerous posts from people concerned about the incident.

Bond Air Services, which reportedly owns the helicopter involved, said it was working with police and emergency services.

READ: Glaswegians dazed by pub helicopter crash

CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark, Bharati Naik, Talia Kayali, Greg Botelho, Nic Robertson and Elwyn Lopez contributed to this report.