Scottish Copter Crash: Grim Search for Victims Will Take ‘Many Days’

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The search for victims after a police helicopter rammed into a bustling Scottish pub will take “many days” as crews painstakingly scour through the unstable building, authorities said.

At least eight bodies have been found in the ruins of the Glasgow pub. Authorities fear more will be discovered.

Glasgow Helicopter Crash

Emergency crews arrive at the scene of the crash. (Credit: Jan Hollands)

The downtown Clutha Bar was packed with about 150 people listening to a band Friday night when the crash occurred.

Far more people would have been endangered just a short walk away in Glasgow’s central shopping district, said Gordon Smart, editor of Scottish Sun newspaper.

From a nearby parking deck, Smart watched the helicopter tumble into the bar.

He waited for an explosion and fireball, but there was an “eerie silence” instead, he said.

A blast might have killed hundreds in the busy area, Smart said.

“It’s a miracle that more people didn’t die,” he said.

Fatalities in helicopter, pub

The outcome was still grim: two police officers and a civilian pilot killed, and five others dead in the pub.

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

Glasgow police said there were more bodies in the building.

“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.”

‘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.

“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.

“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.”

“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.

“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.

‘That didn’t sound right’

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.

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