Air-crash investigators probing the police helicopter crash that killed nine in a crowded Glasgow bar said that the machine was intact during its near-vertical plunge to the ground, with no evidence of fire or an explosion.
The Eurocopter SAS EC135 aircraft did not carry voice or flight data recorders, and the probe will rely on clues from other electronic devices, Dave Miller, deputy chief inspector at the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch, told reporters.
“The recovery operation has been very, very challenging,” Miller said at the televised briefing. “If anything of immediate concern comes to light we will make that known.”
The helicopter, owned and operated by Bond Air Services Ltd., crashed into the Clutha Vaults pub at around 10:25 p.m. on Friday night in Scotland’s biggest city, killing the civilian pilot and two police officers on board, together with six on the ground. Eurocopter said a team of experts and senior managers is on site with the AAIB, which is leading the probe and being assisted by other European aviation authorities.
“Our absolute priority has been to locate the bodies of people who were within the pub when the helicopter came down and to recover them safely,” Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick said in a broadcast statement. “This takes time and great care so that formal identification can take place.”
Television pictures showed the wreckage of the twin-engine EC135 being winched from the crash site, its fuselage and tail structure still largely intact. The wreck will be taken to the AAIB’s Farnborough site in southern England for examination.
Miller said there was no emergency transmission from the pilot before the crash and that nothing became detached from the rotorcraft before the impact, with no explosion or fire.
A Eurocopter technical team will assist the AAIB and the German BFU -- involved because the model was developed at Eurocopter’s site in Donauwoerth, near Munich -- the unit of Toulouse, France-based European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. said today in a safety bulletin. The management delegation will meet with the various parties involved in the probe.
“At this stage, Eurocopter is not in a position to recommend any special measures to our worldwide EC135 operators,” the company said.
The AAIB, whose officials arrived at the scene early Saturday, said the French air-accident body will also be represented, together with the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority, the European Aviation Safety Agency and the Turbomeca unit of Safran SA, which manufactured the helicopter’s engines.
The crash comes after Eurocopter’s larger EC225 model suffered ditchings in the North Sea that led to operational limits being imposed. The AAIB’s Miller said there is no evidence of a link between the incidents and the Glasgow crash.
About 1,100 EC135s are in service with 296 customers in 58 countries worldwide, logging a combined 2.9 million flight hours. The first example was delivered in 1996 and the T2 model, like the one involved in the Scottish deaths, was introduced in August 2002, Eurocopter said today.
There are 57 EC135s in use in the U.K., including 20 deployed with police forces that have logged 19,000 hours in the past year. Bond Air said it is working with authorities.
At the time the accident occurred at least 100 people were in the Clutha pub attending a performance by a local band. As dust and debris bellowed out, passers-by pulled drinkers from the wreckage, forming a human chain as emergency services arrived. Thirty-two people initially were hospitalized, of whom about a dozen are still receiving care.
So far, five of the nine deceased have been named, including the three on board the helicopter. The police officers were identified as constables Tony Collins, 43, and Kirsty Nelis, 36, and the pilot was captain Dave Traill, 51.
Church services were held in Glasgow yesterday to mark the tragedy, while St. Andrew’s Day celebrations for Scotland’s patron saint were canceled in the city.
“Tragedies do not define people, cities or countries,” Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said in a statement. “They are defined by how we respond, how we endure and how we recover. We have responded, we endure and Glasgow and Scotland will recover.”