AAIB Special Report on the London City Agusta Helicopter crash published

This Special Bulletin presents facts determined up to the time of issue and offers no analysis

ACCIDENT

Aircraft Type and Registration: Agusta A109E G-CRST

No & Type of Engines: 2 x Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206CYear of Manufacture:1998

Location : St George Wharf, Vauxhall, LondonDate & Time (UTC):16 January 2013 at 0759 hrsType of Flight:

Commercial Air Transport (Passenger)
Persons on Board:
Crew -1 Passengers - None
Injuries:
Crew - 1 (Fatal) Passengers - N/A
Nature of Damage: Helicopter destroyed

Commander’s Licence: Air Transport Pilot’s Licence

Commander’s Age:50 years
Commander’s Flying Experience: To be confirmed

Information Source: AAIB Field Investigation

Notification

At 0820 hrs on 16 January 2013 the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) was notified that a helicopter, flying over central London, had collided with a crane and crashed into the street near Vauxhall Bridge. A team of AAIB inspectors and support staff were deployed immediately and arrived on the scene at 1130 hrs. 

Synopsis

The helicopter was flying to the east of Battersea Heliport when it struck the jib of a crane, attached to a building development at St George Wharf, at a height of approximately 700 ft in conditions of reduced meteorological visibility. The pilot, who was the sole occupant of the helicopter, and a pedestrian were fatally injured when the damaged helicopter impacted a building and adjacent roadway. This Special Bulletin presents facts determined up to the time of issue and offers no analysis.

History of the flight

The pilot of G-CRST arrived at Redhill Aerodrome at approximately 0630 hrs in preparation for a flight to Elstree Aerodrome. He intended to collect a client to take him and another passenger to the north of England.

The helicopter, callsign Rocket 2, lifted at 0735 hrs and departed to the north climbing to 1,300 ft amsl (see Figures 1 - 3). The pilot called Thames Radar on frequency 125.625 MHz and stated that he was en route from Redhill Aerodrome to Elstree Aerodrome and wished to route overhead London Heliport (near Battersea) with a Special VFR (SVFR) clearance. He was cleared to transit the London Control Zone (CTR) via Battersea, under SVFR, not above 1,000 ft. The
helicopter descended to 1,000 ft before entering the London CTR.


At 0742 hrs, G-CRST was abeam London Heliport at 1,100 ft heading approximately north. It crossed the River Thames 15 seconds later and altered track left towards Holland Park, towards a point immediately east of Brent Reservoir. At 0745 hrs, when 2 nm southeast of the reservoir, ATC amended the helicopter’s clearance to “NOT ABOVE 2,000 FT”.

G-CRST climbed to 1,500 ft on track to Elstree and cleared the northern boundary of the London CTR at 0746 hrs, when it began a descent. It passed Elstree
Aerodrome at 0748 hrs in a descent through 1,200 ft before reaching a minimum altitude of 1,000 ft. At 0749 hrs, G-CRST was 2 nm north-west of Elstree
Aerodrome when it climbed and turned right onto a south-easterly track towards central London.

At 0751 hrs, Thames Radar broadcast London City Airport ATIS2 information ‘J’ which reported a visibility of 700 m, a Runway Visual Range (RVR) of 900 m,
freezing fog and broken cloud with a base 100 ft above the airport. Thirty seconds later, the pilot of G-CRST asked to route back to Redhill Aerodrome via the London Eye and received the reply:

“ROCKET 2 APPROVED VIA THE LONDON EYE NOT ABOVE ALTITUDE 1,500 FEET VFR IF YOU CAN OR SPECIAL VFR, QNH 1012”.
The pilot replied:
“YEAH, WE CAN, 1012 AND NOT ABOVE 1500, VFR OR SPECIAL VFR ROCKET 2”.

G-CRST climbed to 1,500 ft for the transit. At 0753 hrs, the controller asked:
“ROCKET 2 DO YOU HAVE VMC OR WOULD YOU LIKE AN IFR TRANSIT?”
The pilot replied:
“I HAVE GOOD VMC ON TOP HERE, THAT’S FINE, ROCKET 2”.
At 0755 hrs, G-CRST was put under radar control as it entered the London CTR. One minute later, the pilot asked:
“ROCKET 2, IS BATTERSEA OPEN DO YOU KNOW?”
After being told that London Heliport was open, the pilot said:
“IF I COULD HEAD TO BATTERSEA THAT WOULD BE VERY USEFUL”.
The controller replied:
“I’LL JUST HAVE A CHAT WITH THEM, SEE WHAT THEIR CLOUD IS LOOKING LIKE”
At 0757 hrs, G-CRST was abeam the London Eye at 1,500 ft and the pilot said:
“ROCKET 2, I CAN ACTUALLY SEE VAUXHALL, IF I COULD MAYBE HEAD DOWN TO H3… H43 SORRY”
The ATC controller replied:
“ROCKET 2, YOU CAN HOLD ON THE RIVER FOR THE MINUTE BETWEEN VAUXHALL AND WESTMINSTER BRIDGES AND I’LL CALL YOU BACK”.

G-CRST was flying south parallel to the River Thames and, as it passed Westminster Bridge, began to descend.
At 0758 hrs, G-CRST was approaching the north side of the river, 0.5 nm west of Vauxhall Bridge. The controller said:
“ROCKET 2 BATTERSEA ARE JUST TRYING TO FIND OUT IF THEY CAN ACCEPT THE DIVERSION”
The pilot acknowledged, after which the controller continued:
“AND YOU CAN MAKE IT QUITE A WIDE HOLD, YOU CAN GO AS FAR AS LONDON BRIDGE”
The helicopter crossed the north bank of the Thames at 1,000 ft heading south-west and began a right turn through north onto a south-easterly heading which took it back over the middle of the river. It was by now level at approximately 800 ft and altered course to follow the line of the river east towards Vauxhall Bridge.
At 0759:10 hrs, the ATC controller said:
“ROCKET 2 YEAH BATTERSEA DIVERSION APPROVED YOU’RE CLEARED TO BATTERSEA”.
The pilot replied: “LOVELY THANKS ROCKET 2”.
The ATC controller continued:
“ROCKET 2 CONTACT BATTERSEA ONE TWO TWO DECIMAL NINER”.
The pilot replied: “TWO TWO NINE, THANKS A LOT”.
This exchange ended at 0759:18 hrs when G-CRST was approximately 150 m south-west of Vauxhall Bridge.

Immediately afterwards the helicopter began to turn right. At 0759:25 hrs it struck a crane on the south side of the river 275 m from the south-west end of Vauxhall Bridge.

Telephone calls and text messages


Another pilot (Witness A) was aware of the flights planned by the pilot of G-CRST. He reported that the pilot phoned him at 0706 hrs to tell him that the weather
at Redhill was clear and that he was going to collect a passenger from Elstree. The pilot said there was fog at Elstree but he was going to fly overhead to see for himself.

At 0718 hrs, the client called the pilot to discuss the weather. The pilot said he thought the weather might earlier than forecast. The client said he would drive to Elstree and call the pilot to keep him advised.

At 0731 hrs, having noticed how poor the weather was during his journey, the client called the pilot to suggest that he did not take off until he (the client) had reached Elstree and observed the weather. The pilot replied that he was already starting the engines. The client stated that he repeated his suggestion that the pilot should not take off.

At approximately 0750 hrs the client phoned London Heliport and was told that it was open.

Table 1 shows text messages that were sent during the morning.

Time

From

To

Text

0630

Pilot

Client

Weather ok up north but freezing fog at Elstree and Luton not clearing between 8 - 10am I’ve got same at Redhill keep you posted

0640

Pilot

Operator

Freezing fog all london airports ok up north have text [client] clearing between 8 - 10

0705

Witness A

Pilot

Give me a call as I have checked weather and freezing fog around at the moment

0729

Pilot

Client

I’m coming anyway will land in a field if I have to

0743

Pilot

Witness A

Can’t see batts

0744

Witness A

Pilot

Ok

0747

Pilot

Witness A

VFR on top at 1500 feet

0748

Witness A

Pilot

But can you land?

0751

Pilot

Witness A

No hole hdg back to red

0753

Witness A

Pilot

Ok

0753

Pilot

Client

Over Elstree no holes I’m afraid hdg back to Redhill least we tried chat in 10

0755

Client

Pilot

Battersea is open

0755

Pilot

Operator

Can’t get in Elstree hdg back assume clear still

0755

Operator

Pilot

Yes it’s fine still here.

NB. This text was not read

Witness and CCTV information

Witness and CCTV evidence collected to date indicate that the top of the crane and the top of the building to which it was attached were obscured by cloud at the timeof impact.

Meteorological information

Redhill Aerodrome Common Automatic Weather Station ATIS
The information below was taken from the Redhill Aerodrome Common Automatic Weather Station ATIS on 16 January, 2013.

At 0720 hrs, the wind was variable in direction at 1 kt, visibility was 3,100 m, the temperature was -5° C, the dew point was -5° C and QNH was 1010 hPa.
At 0738 hrs, the wind was variable in direction at 1 kt, visibility was 1,300 m, the temperature was -6° C, the dew point was -6° C and QNH was 1010 hPa.
At 0804 hrs, the wind was variable in direction at 1 kt, visibility was 5,000 m, the temperature was -5° C, the dew point was -5° C and QNH was 1011 hPa.
Throughout this period, the system was reporting “NO CLOUD DETECTED” (NCD).

Met Office Report

The Met Office produced a general report of the meteorological conditions prior to and at the time of the accident.

A large ridge of high pressure, centred over Finland, extended a slack, mainly east to south‑easterly flow across southern England which had stagnated overnight.
The air mass was particularly cold, with air temperatures well below freezing across the area. Much of the area was prone to widespread low cloud, poor visibility and patches of freezing fog. Cloud bases were in the range of 100 ft to 400 ft agl at 0800 hrs. Visibility was generally below 4,000 m, with several areas of London, including London City Airport, reporting freezing fog with visibility of approximately 700 m.

Visibility at nearby airports (London Heathrow, London City and Royal Air Force Northolt) was generally less than 4,000 m at 0800 hrs, and as low as 700 m at London City Airport. Freezing fog was forecast for Redhill and Elstree Aerodromes, and at London Heliport until 1000 hrs.

Crane description

The crane was in place to facilitate the construction of a new high-rise building at One St George Wharf. The main tower of the crane was positioned next to
the building and was braced to its structure at regular points. The height of the crane tower was increased by introducing new sections as the building increased
in height. At the time of the accident the building had reached its full height; the crane tower had reached a height of 572 ft agl. On top of the crane tower was
a cab unit, a counterjib ‘A’ frame and counter weight platform attached to the crane tower by a bearing ring, which allowed the jib to rotate (slew) in the horizontal plane. The crane had a ‘luffing’ jib, which meant the full length of the jib pivoted in the vertical plane from a point a further 11.5 ft above the height of the tower section.

During out-of-service periods, such as overnight, the jib was parked in the ‘minimum jib’ position, at a 65° angle above the horizontal. At the time of the accident this gave a total height from the ground to the tip of the jib
of 719 ft.

The crane was lit at night with red lights, both on its tower and jib. The tower lighting consisted of mains powered steady red lights at approximately 50 m intervals. The jib lighting was provided by solar powered lights. The Air
Navigation Order requires the lighting to be of medium intensity (2,000 candela) and that the obstacle be lit at night only.

Notice to Airmen (NOTAM)

The following NOTAM relating to the crane was valid at the time of the accident:
Q) EGTT/QOBCE/IV/M/ AE/000/008/5129N00007W001
B) FROM: 13/01/07 17:00C) TO: 13/03/15 23:59
E) HIGH RISE JIB CRANE (LIT AT NIGHT) OPR WI 1NM 5129N 00007W, HGT
770FT AMSL (VAUXHALL, CENTRAL LONDON), OPS CTC 020 7820 3151
12-10-0429/AS 2.

The following is a plain language translation:
‘In the London Flight Information Region an obstacle has been erected affecting both instrument and visual traffic. Aerodrome and en route traffic is affected. The obstacle is from the surface to 800 ft amsl and is positioned within a 1 nm radius of 51°29’ N 000° 07’W. The obstacle will be in place from 1700 hrs on 7 Jan 2013 to 2359 hrs on 15 March 2013. It is a high rise jib crane (lit at night).’

Recorded information

The helicopter’s radar position and Mode S altitude were provided to the AAIB by NATS4. The position of the helicopter was captured by several radar heads and
was first recorded at 07:35:48 hrs just north of Redhill Aerodrome at 400 ft amsl. The helicopter then climbed and tracked north towards Elstree arriving 1,100 ft
overhead at 07:48:19 hrs, before turning back towards central London.

The helicopter arrived over the River Thames adjacent to Battersea Power Station at 07:58:35 hrs at a recorded altitude of 900 ft before performing a right turn to track along the river towards Vauxhall Bridge. The final two recorded positions show a turn to the right abeam St George Wharf at 800 ft, with the final position recorded at 07:59:24 hrs.

Injuries to persons

The pilot and a pedestrian on Wandsworth Road suffered fatal injuries in the accident. Several people on the ground suffered serious injuries, but the exact numbers have yet to be confirmed.

Download report:
PDF iconAAIB S1-2013 G-CRST.pdf (7,332.33 kb)

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