LONDON -- A helicopter crashed into a crane atop a residential tower in central London on Wednesday, exploding into flames and hurtling to the ground during the morning rush hour, the police said.
The pilot and a person on the ground were killed, British officials said, and at least 12 people were injured. Burning aviation fuel spilled along a street in the Vauxhall district on the south bank of the Thames, and British news reports spoke of cars on fire and people screaming.
The crash badly damaged the crane on the building -- the Tower, one of Europe's tallest residential buildings -- and it was left dangling high over the street below, shrouded in a smoky haze. Fire engines, ambulances and dozens of firefighters converged on the scene of the crash. One man was rescued from a burning car, the London Fire Brigade said. Traffic snarled as the police shut down roads in the area.
The headquarters of Britain's MI6 spy agency is nearby, but there were no suggestions that the crash was anything but an accident.
The Agusta 109 helicopter, with only the pilot on board, had been flying toward Elstree, the location of several British film studios north of London, but was diverted because of bad weather. The charter company that operated the helicopter, RotorMotion, identified the pilot as Peter Barnes, 50. "He was a very highly skilled pilot, one of the most experienced in the U.K., with over 12,000 flying hours," Philip Amadeus, the company's chief pilot, said in a statement. "We are devastated by the loss of a highly valued colleague and a very dear friend. Our thoughts and condolences are with Peter's wife and children."
Mr. Barnes had been flying helicopters in Britain for 18 years on assignments, according to RotorMotion, including some related to movies including the James Bond film "Die Another Day," "Tomb Raider II" and "Saving Private Ryan."
The RotorMotion Web site said Mr. Barnes was a former ski instructor who had completed training on helicopters in Florida. Helicopters are not unusual over London. "We have rules and there are procedures in place for helicopter flight," a defense expert, Paul Beaver, told the Press Association news agency. "It's much more challenging in reduced visibility. It's very much up to the pilot to fly the right route and do the right things."
Paulo Goncalves, 40, a stonemason from Portugal who works on the Tower, which is in the St. George Wharf development, said he was getting ready to go to work when he and his co-workers were told to evacuate the building. When they went outside, plumes of black smoke were billowing from the wreckage.
"It was scary," he said. "Really, really scary."
Edward Docx, a British novelist, said he left his nearby home about 15 minutes after hearing "a bang over the usual clamor of the city." When he walked out into the smoke and sirens, he considered whether an attack had occurred, noting the proximity not only of the MI6 headquarters but also of the American Embassy.
"I went forward again as far as I could to see for myself," he wrote in an e-mail. "Once I knew it was an accident, it struck me that maybe the pilot had deliberately landed on the road. Because it's wide at that point and there is a big housing estate on one side and a supermarket on the other, plus lots of railway lines crisscrossing the area and a vast flower market nearby -- not to mention all the office buildings. It was clear to me that either London had been extremely lucky that he missed all of that. Or he was a brave and brilliant pilot who somehow pitched himself in those last terrible few seconds at the least destructive landing site he could see. A few meters in any direction and the tragedy could have been much much worse."
Lark Turner reported from London, and Alan Cowell from Paris.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.