GLASGOW, Scotland — Scottish emergency workers were sifting through wreckage Saturday for survivors of a police helicopter crash onto a crowded Glasgow pub that has killed at least one person and injured more than two dozen. The number of fatalities is expected to rise, officials said.
The Clutha pub, near the banks of the River Clyde, was packed Friday night and a ska band was in full swing when the chopper slammed through the roof.
Search and rescue teams are hoping to find survivors even though police couldn’t say for sure whether people were still trapped inside the pub. The crash happened on the eve of St. Andrew’s Day, Scotland’s official national holiday.
“This is a black day for Glasgow and Scotland but it’s also St Andrew’s Day, and it’s a day we can take pride and courage in how we respond to adversity and tragedy,” Scottish leader Alex Salmond said, later ordering that flags outside government buildings be flown at half-staff.
Prime Minister David Cameron offered to support the Scottish government “in any way,” offering his “deepest sympathies” to those affected by the tragedy and praising emergency services plus “the bravery of ordinary Glaswegians” who rushed to help.
Chief Constable Stephen House confirmed that overnight 32 people were taken by ambulance to hospitals in following the crash.
“Sadly at this time I can also confirm one fatality,” he told reporters. “We expect that number to increase over the coming hours.”
Police and air-safety investigators say it’s too early to say why the Eurocopter EC135 T2 helicopter — carrying two police officers and a civilian pilot — came down on the pub’s roof, close to a helipad on the riverbank.
House said specialist teams are working to make sure everyone is recovered from the scene, where revelers were packed into the pub to hear Esperanza, a local ska band, when the helicopter crashed through the roof.
“Highly trained firefighters from all over Scotland are carrying out rescue operations at the scene,” House said, adding that efforts are being made to make contact with anyone who might be alive at the scene. “They are continuing to make the building safe to allow full examination of the scene to ensure that everyone is recovered.”
There were no ambulances visible on the scene by late morning Saturday, but groups of people huddled around a police cordon, some visibly upset and crying. A blue tarpaulin had been spread on the roof of the Clutha bar in Glasgow, but the shapes of the blades and mangled fuselage were clearly visible from the street.
John McGarrigle, 38, said that he believed his 59-year-old father, also named John, had died in the crash.
The younger McGarrigle, who described his father as a regular at the bar who sat in the same seat every night, had arrived on the scene shortly after the crash and stayed all night.
“His friend told me she went to the toilet, heard the noise and went back into the bar,” he said. “He was gone. There was nothing left where he’d been sitting.”
The crash Friday at around 10:30 p.m. sent dozens of patrons fleeing through a cloud of dust. Witnesses spoke of people streaming out of the building covered in blood, with gashes and other injuries.
Local resident Paul Dundas, 26, told how he heard a loud bang and looked out of his window to see a plume of dust rising above the pub.
“At first I thought it was a firework,” he said, describing the “horrible scene” he discovered upon going down to the street level.
“People were covered in blood and dust. Other people were dragging them away from the bar and trying to get them out,” he said. “Everyone was in shock, but people were helping and asking strangers if they were OK. I saw a couple help each other clean up their faces.
Grace MacLean, who was inside the pub at the time, said she heard a “whoosh” noise and then saw smoke.
“The band were laughing, and we were all joking that the band had made the roof come down,” she told the BBC. “They carried on playing, and then it started to come down more, and someone started screaming, and then the whole pub just filled with dust. You couldn’t see anything, you couldn’t breathe.”
The twin-engine Eurocopter is widely used by police and ambulance services.
In 2007, a Eurocopter EC135 T2 crashed in southern England. The pilot and his wife were unhurt, but the aircraft was badly damaged. Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch said there had been a failure of the autotrim system which maintains the aircraft’s position. The agency recommended changes to correct the problem.
Esperanza, the band which was playing in The Clutha when the crash occurred, joined in the heaps of praise showered on rescue officials.
“Waking up and realizing that it is all definitely horribly real,” the band wrote on its official Facebook page. “Despite the situation everyone was so helpful and caring of each other. The police, ambulances, firefighters all did a stellar job and continue to do so today.”
Glasgow, a city of about 600,000 people, has transformed its traditional image of being a rough and tumble city to one with a vibrant music and arts scene. It was also among the cities that hosted Olympic soccer matches in 2012 and will hold the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
Cassandra Vinograd reported from London.