LONDON — A helicopter crashed into a crane and fell on a crowded street in central London during rush hour Wednesday, sending flames and black plumes of smoke into the air. The pilot and one person on the ground were killed and 13 others injured, officials said.
The helicopter crashed in misty weather just south of the River Thames near the Underground and mainline train station at Vauxhall, and close to the headquarters of spy agency MI6.
Police said one person had critical injuries. Six were taken to a nearby hospital with minor injuries and seven treated at the scene, ambulance officials said.
“It was something of a miracle that this was not many, many times worse,” police Cmdr. Neil Basu said.
The pilot, who was killed, had requested to divert and land at the nearby London Heliport because of bad weather, the heliport said in a statement.
“The London Heliport never gained contact with the helicopter,” the statement said.
The aircraft, an AgustaWestland 109, was on a commercial flight, said Philip Amadeus, managing director of RotorMotion, an executive helicopter charter business.
The company identified the pilot as Peter Barnes, 50, whose career included flying in films including “Saving Private Ryan” and the James Bond movie “Die Another Day.”
“He was a very highly skilled pilot, one of the most experienced in the U.K., with over 12,000 flying hours,” Amadeus said. “We are devastated by the loss of a highly valued colleague and very dear friend.”
Police identified the other fatality as 39-year-old Matthew Wood, of south London.
The crash unfolded at the height of the morning commute when thousands of pedestrians in the area were trying to get to work.
The weather at the time was overcast and misty with fog and poor visibility, according to the Met Office weather forecasting service.
Video from the scene showed wreckage burning in a street, and black smoke in the area, with a line of flaming fuel and debris marking the area where the helicopter smashed down.
Witnesses said the disaster unfolded when the helicopter hit a crane atop a 50-story residential building, the St. George Wharf Tower.
“I was 100 percent sure it was a terrorist attack,” said Allen Crosbie, site manager for the landscape firm Maylim Ltd., who was working at the scene.
“There was debris everywhere, a ton of black smoke. Parts of the crane, parts of the helicopter. I heard bang, bang — I presume it was the helicopter hitting the crane and then the ground. People were just panicking.”
William Belsey, 25, a landscape worker, also said he heard the helicopter hit the crane.
“Luckily the crane operator was late for work this morning. He picked a good day to be late,” Belsey said.