Essex: Late Workers Minutes from Helicopter Crash

Two workmen from Essex who should have been in a crane that was hit by a helicopter in central London escaped death by minutes because they overslept.

Richard Moule and Nicki Biagioni were late for work and hurrying to climb the crane in Vauxhall when the helicopter clipped the structure and plunged 700ft to the ground, killing pilot Peter Barnes.

A second man who died in the accident was named by Scotland Yard last night as Matthew Wood, 39, from Sutton, south London, who is believed to have been walking to work when he was killed.

Twelve other people were injured and police said it was a "miracle'' more were not hurt when the helicopter fell to the busy rush-hour streets.

The crash happened at 8am yesterday (Wednesday January 16th) near Vauxhall Station when an AgustaWestland 109 Power hit a high-rise crane at The Tower, One St George Wharf, one of Europe's largest skyscrapers.

Mr Moule, 31, a father of two from Harlow, was supposed to be at work at 7am with his colleague Mr Biagioni, 30, but both were late, the Daily Mail said.

"It was the first time I've been late since starting this job three years ago. I just woke up late. Call it divine intervention if you like,'' Mr Moule told the newspaper.

He said he was in the building's basement ready to go up when the accident happened and he was evacuated.

He said: "The first thing I did was call my wife Stephanie and tell her, 'You'll be hearing about this but I'm OK.' She gave me a big hug when I got back home.''

Mr Biagioni, from Ongar, Essex, was late because his four-year-old son, who usually wakes him up, slept in, The Sun said.

His wife Leanna told the paper he phoned her to say he should be dead.

She said: "Nicki was at the site minutes before it happened. He gets a lift to a certain level and then climbs a ladder the rest of the way. 

"If he'd been climbing he would have died from the fall for certain. It's too horrible to think about.''

Stunt pilot Mr Barnes, 50, from Berkshire, who has piloted helicopters for movies such as Die Another Day, was alone in the aircraft amid thick cloud when it clipped the crane.

It came down on land near to the building, with burning wreckage strewn across the road.

The helicopter was undertaking a commercial flight from Redhill, Surrey, to Elstree, Hertfordshire, but Mr Barnes asked to be diverted to Battersea heliport because of bad weather.

Witnesses described hearing a loud bang and a flash of light as the twin-engine aircraft crashed near Wandsworth Road.

Video footage and photos flooded on to social media sites revealing chaotic scenes, burning wreckage and vehicles charred by flames.

Mother-of-five Sharon Moore, who lives on the nearby Wyvil Estate, said she saw the aircraft slice through the crane "as if it was a piece of paper''.

She said: "The helicopter did not seem to know which way to turn and then it just dropped, it sliced, screeching into the metal.''

Traffic chaos ensued in the wake of the incident as several roads were partially closed, with Vauxhall's underground, railway and bus stations closed for a short time.

Residents from nearby houses in Lambeth and Wandsworth were not allowed to return home last night after debris was scattered over a large area, including on rooftops.

The situation would be reviewed at midday today (Thursday January 17th), a police spokesman added.

Staff at Redhill Aerodrome confirmed the helicopter left the site at 7.35am, while the owner of London Heliport said Mr Barnes requested to land at one of its sites via Heathrow air traffic control.

But the Heliport never established contact with the pilot and shortly before 8am the emergency services started to receive hundreds of calls reporting the crash.

London Fire Brigade station manager Bruce Grain, one of the first firefighters at the scene, said it "was absolute chaos'' as residents were evacuated but revealed the fire was put out within 20 minutes.

Six fire engines, four fire rescue units, other specialist vehicles and 88 firefighters attended the scene of the crash, a few hundred yards from the future American embassy site.

Around 60 police officers also attended the scene.

In the aftermath of the crash, questions were raised over the safety of aircraft flying over London, especially as the number of high-rise blocks being built increases.

But sources said lights fitted to the crane were in place and were checked twice daily - including on Tuesday.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said lighting of cranes and tall buildings will be reviewed, but that it would be "premature'' to second guess the investigation into the accident.

Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the emergency services yesterday. Speaking in the Commons he said: "The whole House will wish to join with me in sending their thanks to the emergency services for their rapid and professional response to this situation.''