Scotland mourns pub helicopter crash victims

AFP-JIJI

Candles were lit Sunday as Scotland remembered those who were killed when a police helicopter plunged through the roof of a Glasgow pub, while rescuers toiled to retrieve bodies from the wreckage.

Emergency service workers began attempts to winch the police aircraft back through the roof of The Clutha, where it is feared further corpses may be found under wreckage, raising the death toll.

Eight fatalities have been confirmed so far. All three on board the helicopter and one man who was in the pub have been named.

More than 100 people were watching a Glaswegian ska band in the popular live music bar Friday night when the unexplained disaster struck.

In somber scenes, eight candles were lit in Glasgow Cathedral during a packed memorial service, which also paid tribute to the rescue effort and remembered those injured.

The Rev. Laurence Whitley told the congregation: “We do not end this day in despair and losses.

“Our great and vibrant and irrepressible city shall stand together with our suffering ones and hand in hand go forward into the light.”

Ambulance workers in uniform sat in the pews, along with Scotland’s police chief, Stephen House.

He later had to announce the deaths of the helicopter crew: Capt. David Traill, 51, the pilot, and police constables Kirsty Nelis, 36, and 43-year-old Tony Collins. Both officers had previously been commended for bravery.

“I’d like to pay tribute to all of them and the work that they did over the years, keeping people safe across Scotland,” said House.

The chief constable said the work to extract the helicopter was “painstaking.”

“Until the helicopter is completely removed from the scene and the right people are in the premises and are able to look through the rubble completely and start to clear it, we cannot say about exact numbers (of deaths),” he said.

At The Clutha, cranes could be seen working on the wreckage of the riverside bar in the middle of Scotland’s biggest city. One rotor blade was lifted out of the debris.

Survivor Craig Bain, 35, his bowed head wrapped in white bandages, went straight from a hospital back to the scene to lay flowers.

“I was in the pub when it happened,” he told STV television, shaking and barely able to speak through tears.

“I just remember waking up and being pulled out by a fireman.

“There was a man on the news. His dad was right next to me. He was one of the dead,” he said, overcome with emotion.

Besides the helicopter, five people in the bar are so far known to have been killed.

The only one officially named so far is Gary Arthur, 48, from the Paisley suburb of Glasgow. His daughter, Chloe, plays football for Scotland and Celtic under-19s.

“RIP dad. You’ll always mean the world to me, I promise to do you proud, I love you with all my heart,” she tweeted.

A minute’s silence was held ahead of Sunday’s Scottish Cup football match between hosts Hearts and Celtic.

Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and his wife, Camilla, sent their “most heartfelt thoughts and sympathy to the families of those who were lost or injured in Friday’s truly shocking helicopter accident.”

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond paid tribute to the victims and the people of Glasgow.

“Tragedies do not define people, cities or countries,” he said in a statement.

“They are defined by how we respond, how we endure and how we recover. We have responded, we endure and Glasgow and Scotland will recover.”

Following the accident, some 32 people were taken away by ambulance.

The 12 still hospitalized sustained serious injuries, including bone fractures and lacerations. Three are in intensive care.

The helicopter had been returning to Glasgow after an operation, though no further details have been released about the flight.

Scotland police said the Eurocopter EC135 Type 2 passed precautionary safety checks in July 2012.

Newspapers speculated as to what might have triggered the crash, from a loss of power or fuel, to an attempted emergency landing on the one-storey bar’s flat roof.

A Eurocopter spokesman confirmed that five of its aircraft had undergone repairs after sustaining cracks over recent years, but that it was too early to draw any conclusions.

“A thorough investigation must be carried out,” the spokesman said.

People inside said they heard a heavy thud and a brief pause before the roof caved in and the air filled with dust and screams.