London - Two workmen on Wednesday night thanked ‘divine intervention’ for their astonishing escape from death as a helicopter crashed into their crane and turned into a fireball.
The pair should have been in the cabin when disaster struck, sending burning debris cascading 700ft (about 213m) on to the rush-hour streets of London below.
Instead, Richard Moule and his colleague Nicki Biagioni were late for work – both had overslept for the first time in years – and missed death by minutes.
The crash, which happened at 8am on Wednesday in fog, claimed two lives, including that of the helicopter pilot, and left 12 injured. But police said it was ‘a miracle’ that the toll was not higher after the helicopter sliced through the crane ‘as if it was a piece of paper’, scattering wreckage over the streets of Vauxhall, South London.
Father-of-two Moule, 31, told the Daily Mail: ‘My colleague and I were both supposed to be there at 7am but we were both late.
‘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.
‘I went in on my motorcycle and got there about 7.45am. I was in the basement ready to go up when it happened.
‘I didn’t hear an explosion. The first I knew was when an alarm went off and people were being evacuated.
‘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.’
Biagioni’s wife Leanna said that her husband, a father of three, had also overslept.
She said: ‘He overslept this morning, something he never does and was late for work. He was not up the crane when it hit.
‘I thank his guardian angel.’
Biagioni, 30, who is the principal crane operator, was over an hour late for work. Friends said he was normally woken by his three children – sons Rocco, six, four-year-old Dino, and Luca, two – but they had slept in.
He was just arriving at the site on his motorbike and driving down a ramp to park in front of the crane as the helicopter hit.
Witnesses described hearing a loud bang and seeing a flash of light as the helicopter collided with the high-rise crane on top of Britain’s tallest residential skyscraper, the St George Tower.
Pete Barnes, who has piloted helicopters for movies such as the James Bond film Die Another Day, was alone in the aircraft amid thick cloud when it clipped the structure.
The AgustaWestland 109 Power hurtled to the ground and exploded into flames yards from Vauxhall Station, claiming the lives of Barnes and another person on the ground, who was named last night as 39-year-old Matthew Wood from Sutton, South London.
London Mayor Boris Johnson said there could easily have been many more fatalities, given the close proximity of the crash scene to one of the capital’s busiest transport hubs, Vauxhall Station, a major supermarket and the headquarters of MI6.
‘It could have been much worse,’ he said.
Commander Neil Basu, of the Metropolitan Police, said: ‘It was something of a miracle that this was not many, many times worse.’
Dramatic video footage and photos of the crash, described by terrified witnesses as being like a ‘mini 9/11’ and a ‘disaster movie’, were uploaded on to the internet within minutes, revealing chaotic scenes, burning wreckage and buildings and cars damaged by flames.
Several key roads were closed off, causing commuter chaos, as the emergency services battled fires. Initial fears of a possible terrorist attack were quickly discounted.
On Wednesday accident investigators were probing claims by witnesses that a light on top of the crane may not have working or clearly visible. It also emerged that pilots had been warned of the existence of the crane by the aviation authorities.
On Wednesday night at his home in Harlow, Essex, Moule’s two young children were repeatedly telling him: ‘I love you, I love you.’
Moule said that he had no idea what he was supposed to do about reporting for work on Thursday.
‘I’m just waiting for them to ring me and let me know,’ he said. ‘They’re more concerned about what happened.’
His sister Charlotte, 22, wrote on Twitter: ‘Maybe there is a God up there! That was my brother’s crane and he was late for work today!’
A friend of Biagioni, who lives in Loughton, Essex, said that he was ‘devastated’ for the families of those who died.
He said: ‘He’s got three little kids. I spoke to him earlier on, he’s devastated about what was happened, but is obviously so relieved that he survived.
‘It’s a miracle that he not only lived, but was not hurt.’
Biagioni has been told not to go in to work on Thursday. He may now lose his job on the site because the crane is inoperable.- Daily Mail