Two workmen who should have been in a crane that was hit by a helicopter in central London escaped death by minutes because they overslept.

Richard Moule and Nicki Biagioni were late for work and hurrying to climb the crane in Vauxhall when the helicopter clipped the structure and plunged 700ft to the ground, killing pilot Peter Barnes.

A second man who died in the accident was named by Scotland Yard last night as Matthew Wood, 39, from Sutton, south London, who is believed to have been walking to work when he was killed.

crane

Workmen view the crane which was hit by the helicopter

Twelve other people were injured and police said it was a "miracle" more were not hurt when the helicopter fell to the busy rush-hour streets.

The crash happened at 8am Wednesday near Vauxhall Station when an AgustaWestland 109 Power hit a high-rise crane at The Tower, One St George Wharf, one of Europe's largest skyscrapers.

Mr Moule, 31, a father of two from Harlow, Essex, was supposed to be at work at 7am with his colleague Mr Biagioni, 30, but both were late, the Daily Mail said.

"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," Mr Moule told the newspaper.

He said he was in the building's basement ready to go up when the accident happened and he was evacuated. He said: "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."

Mr Biagioni, from Ongar, Essex, was late because his four-year-old son, who usually wakes him up, slept in, The Sun said.

His wife Leanna told the paper he phoned her to say he should be dead. She said: "Nicki was at the site minutes before it happened. He gets a lift to a certain level and then climbs a ladder the rest of the way.

"If he'd been climbing he would have died from the fall for certain. It's too horrible to think about."

Stunt pilot Mr Barnes, 50, from Berkshire, who has piloted helicopters for movies such as Die Another Day, was alone in the aircraft amid thick cloud when it clipped the crane. It came down on land near to the building, with burning wreckage strewn across the road.

The helicopter was undertaking a commercial flight from Redhill, Surrey, to Elstree, Hertfordshire, but Mr Barnes asked to be diverted to Battersea heliport because of bad weather.

Witnesses described hearing a loud bang and a flash of light as the twin-engine aircraft crashed near Wandsworth Road.

Video footage and photos flooded on to social media sites revealing chaotic scenes, burning wreckage and vehicles charred by flames.

Mother-of-five Sharon Moore, who lives on the nearby Wyvil Estate, said she saw the aircraft slice through the crane "as if it was a piece of paper".

She said: "The helicopter did not seem to know which way to turn and then it just dropped, it sliced, screeching into the metal."

Traffic chaos ensued in the wake of the incident as several roads were partially closed, with Vauxhall's underground, railway and bus stations closed for a short time.

Residents from nearby houses in Lambeth and Wandsworth were not allowed to return home last night after debris was scattered over a large area, including on rooftops. The situation would be reviewed at midday today, a police spokesman added.

Staff at Redhill Aerodrome confirmed the helicopter left the site at 7.35am, while the owner of London Heliport said Mr Barnes requested to land at one of its sites via Heathrow air traffic control.

But the Heliport never established contact with the pilot and shortly before 8am the emergency services started to receive hundreds of calls reporting the crash.

London Fire Brigade station manager Bruce Grain, one of the first firefighters at the scene, said it "was absolute chaos" as residents were evacuated but revealed the fire was put out within 20 minutes.

Six fire engines, four fire rescue units, other specialist vehicles and 88 firefighters attended the scene of the crash, a few hundred yards from the future American embassy site. Around 60 police officers also attended the scene.

In the aftermath of the crash, questions were raised over the safety of aircraft flying over London, especially as the number of high-rise blocks being built increases. But sources said lights fitted to the crane were in place and were checked twice daily - including on Tuesday.

Commander Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police said: "It was something of a miracle that this was not many, many times worse."

Family liaison officers are with the victims' relatives and post-mortem examinations will take place at a later date, Scotland Yard said.

The eight-seater helicopter is owned by Cornwall-based Castle Air but was leased to another firm RotorMotion, which is based at Redhill Aerodrome.

Captain Philip Amadeus, managing director of RotorMotion, an executive helicopter charter business, said the aircraft was on a commercial flight to Elstree.

He said: "Our main priority now is for the family of the pilot and we extend our greatest sympathy to the friends and relatives of those who have died and been injured."

Tributes have been paid to Mr Barnes. Kevin Hodgson, who worked alongside him on life-saving missions with the Great North Air Ambulance (GNAA), said: "Pete was as good a guy as you can imagine and one of the best pilots I've ever had the pleasure of flying with."

Mr Barnes, who also flew aircraft for films Tomb Raider II and Saving Private Ryan, had around 9,000 hours of flying time, including 3,500 hours on the type of craft involved in the incident.

A relative who answered the intercom at Mr Barnes's home in the small rural village of Goddard's Green near Mortimer, Berkshire, said she did not want to comment and asked that the family's privacy was respected.

Neighbour David Sinclair, 66, said Mr Barnes had two children and had lived in the area for four or five years.
"We saw the helicopter come and go every now and again, as he had a helipad in the garden and parked it there," he said.

The accident is very sad. It's unbelievable, really."

In 2004, he carried out a daring rescue of a motorist from a flooded ford in County Durham while working for the GNAA.

More recently, he had been flying the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance (WNAA). Andy Williamson, chief executive of the WNAA, said: "Pete had worked with us for many years and will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with his family and with all the families affected by this tragedy."

RotorMotion's website has pictures of famous passengers including David Cameron, the Dalai Lama, Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole. The business has been operating for 15 years and describes itself as a "boutique helicopter charter business".

On its website, RotorMotion says: "Our helicopters have twin turbine engines and are certified to fly at night, over water and in cloud. Relax in the knowledge that both pilot and machine are fully instrument qualified to fly in poor weather conditions."

Paul Knightley, a forecaster at MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said London City Airport reported a cloudbase of just 100ft (30.5m) at the time of the accident.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said helicopter regulations for flying over London included "requirements for lighting on tall structures".

The authority said: "In addition, where appropriate, very tall structures are also notified to pilots for flight planning purposes, as was the case with the crane that was involved in this morning's accident."

The Scotland Yard and the London Fire Brigade are working with other agencies including the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) and the CAA.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said lighting of cranes and tall buildings will be reviewed, but that it would be "premature" to second guess the investigation into yesterday's accident.

Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the emergency services yesterday. Speaking in the Commons he said: "The whole House will wish to join with me in sending their thanks to the emergency services for their rapid and professional response to this situation."

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  • Pete Barnes, the pilot who died after his helicopter crashed in Vauxhall, London was one of the country's most experienced pilots, having flown choppers in Hollywood movies and ferried politicians and celebrities around the UK. Pete Barnes, 50, worked fo

    Pete Barnes, the pilot who died after his helicopter crashed in Vauxhall, London was one of the country's most experienced pilots, having flown choppers in Hollywood movies and ferried politicians and celebrities around the UK. Pete Barnes, 50, worked for "boutique" helicopter company Rotormotion and died after trying to divert the aircraft due to bad weather.

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    Debris and a burned out car are pictured at the scene of a helicopter crash in central London, on January 16, 2013. Two people were killed when a helicopter hit a crane at a building site in central London and plunged to the ground on Wednesday, police said. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Debris (R) is pictured beside a fire fighting vehicle at the scene of a helicopter crash in central London, on January 16, 2013. Two people were killed when a helicopter hit a crane at a building site in central London and plunged to the ground on Wednesday, police said. AFP PHOTO / CARL COURT (Photo credit should read CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Debris and a burntout car are pictured at the scene of a helicopter crash in central London, on January 16, 2013. Two people were killed when a helicopter hit a crane at a building site in central London and plunged to the ground on Wednesday, police said. AFP PHOTO / CARL COURT (Photo credit should read CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Debris and a burned out car are pictured at the scene of a helicopter crash in central London, on January 16, 2013. Two people were killed when a helicopter hit a crane at a building site in central London and plunged to the ground on Wednesday, police said. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Members of the emergency services prepare a stretcher as they attend to the scene of a helicopter crash in London, on January 16, 2013. Two people were killed when a helicopter hit a crane at a building site in central London and plunged to the ground on Wednesday, police said. AFP PHOTO / CARL COURT (Photo credit should read CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

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    A general view of the scene shortly after a helicopter crashed in the Vauxhall area of central London, after hitting a crane on top of a tower block by the River Thames, according to eye witness reports, Wednesday Jan. 16, 2013. (AP Photo / Toby Scott, PA) UNITED KINGDOM OUT - NO SALES - NO ARCHIVES

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  • (Credit: YouTube/niczerogoeshome)

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    Helicopter Crashes in Central London Credit Victor Jimenez

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  • Helicopter Crashes in Central London Credit Victor Jimenez

    Helicopter Crashes in Central London Credit Victor Jimenez

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    Helicopter Crashes in Central London Credit Victor Jimenez

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  • Helicopter Crashes in Central London Credit Victor Jimenez

    Helicopter Crashes in Central London Credit Victor Jimenez

  • Helicopter Crashes in Central London Credit Victor Jimenez

    Helicopter Crashes in Central London Credit Victor Jimenez

  • Helicopter Crashes in Central London Credit Victor Jimenez

    Helicopter Crashes in Central London Credit Victor Jimenez

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  • Helicopter Crashes in Vauxhall, South London

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  • Helicopter Crashes in Vauxhall, South London

    LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 16: Emergency services at the scene after a helicopter reportedly collided with a crane attached to St Georges Wharf Tower in Vauxhall, on January 16, 2013 in London, England. According to reports, the helicopter hit the crane before plunging into the road below during the morning rush hour. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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    A group of firefighters examine the scene from an extendable ladder high above Wandsworth Road, after a helicopter crashed into the crane on top of St George's Wharf tower building, in Vauxhall south London.

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    A section of the Crane lays in Nine Elms Lane, after crashing to the ground close to St George's Wharf tower building, where a Helicopter crashed into this morning, in Vauxhall south London.

  • Helicopter Crashes in Vauxhall, South London

    LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 16: Emergency services at the scene after a helicopter reportedly collided with a crane attached to St Georges Wharf Tower in Vauxhall, on January 16, 2013 in London, England. According to reports, the helicopter hit the crane before plunging into the road below during the morning rush hour. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

  • Helicopter crash in London

    A section of the Crane lays in Nine Elms Lane, after crashing to the ground close to St George's Wharf tower building, where a Helicopter crashed into this morning, in Vauxhall south London.

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    Emergency services at the scene of a helicopter crash in central London.

  • Helicopter crash in London

    A section of the crane lays in Nine Elms Lane, after crashing to the ground close to St George's Wharf tower building, where a helicopter crashed into this morning, in Vauxhall south London.

  • Helicopter crash in London

    Police close off the junction of Parry Street and Wandsworth Road, after a helicopter crashed into the Crane on top of St George's Wharf tower building, in heavy freezing mist in Vauxhall south London.

  • Helicopter Crashes in Vauxhall, South London

    LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 16: Fog surrounds a damaged crane attached to St Georges Wharf Tower after a helicopter reportedly collided with it, in Vauxhall, on January 16, 2013 in London, England. According to reports, the helicopter hit the crane before plunging into the road below during the morning rush hour. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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    A general view of the damaged crane on top of St Georges Tower close to the scene where a helicopter crashed in central London.

  • Helicopter crash in London

    A general view of the damaged crane on top of St Georges Tower close to the scene where a helicopter crashed in central London.

  • Helicopter crash in London

    A general view of the damaged crane on top of St Georges Tower close to the scene where a helicopter crashed in central London.

  • Helicopter crash in London

    Emergency services at the scene of a helicopter crash in central London.

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    Police close off the Vauxhall Cross intersection, after a Helicopter crashed into a construction Crane on top of St George's Wharf tower building, in Vauxhall south London.

  • Helicopter crash in London

    Police close off the Vauxhall Cross intersection, after a Helicopter crashed into a construction Crane on top of St George's Wharf tower building, in Vauxhall south London.

  • Helicopter crash in London

    A small part of the emergency services on the scene at Vauxhall Cross intersection, after a Helicopter crashed into a construction Crane on top of St George's Wharf tower building, in Vauxhall south London.

  • Helicopter Crashes in Vauxhall, South London

    LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 16: A police officer stands outside a residential bliock near to the scene where a helicopter crashed in Vauxhall, on January 16, 2013 in London, England. According to reports, the helicopter hit the crane attached to St Georges Wharf Tower before plunging into the road below during the morning rush hour. Two people died and nine casualties have been confirmed with one in a critical condition. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

  • Helicopter crash in London

    A section of the crane (top left) lays in Nine Elms Lane, after crashing to the ground close to St George's Wharf tower building, where a Helicopter crashed into this morning, in Vauxhall south London.