Late pair minutes from crane death

Thurrock Gazette: Construction workers view the damaged crane on top of St George's Tower Construction workers view the damaged crane on top of St George's Tower

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 on Wednesday night as Matthew Wood, 39, from Sutton, south London, who is believed to have been walking to work when he was killed. 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 on 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.

Aviation expert Simon Mitchell, a friend of Mr Barnes, said he was "one of the best". He told ITV's Daybreak: "As an industry, your peers judge you as well, and I think everybody in the industry would accept that Pete was one of the best. He was larger than life. Some characters are a little bit introverted and other guys are out there and fill a room, and Pete was one of those guys."

Dr Mitchell said he had doubts about reports that suggested the helicopter was out of control before striking the crane. He said: "I feel it may be a perception thing. This is depending on their viewpoint, they may have not appreciated the distance of the jib from the building itself. As soon as it made contact with that structure, it would have deviated from its flightpath." He added: "He was a professional colleague and I think everyone will remember him as being somebody who contributed a lot to the helicopter industry, and he will be missed."

London Mayor Boris Johnson said it was too early to draw any conclusions on whether there should be more restrictions on additions to the capital's skyline. He said: "I think it's very early to start drawing that sort of conclusion. What we're going to be doing now - the Air Accidents Investigation Branch of the CAA is going to be looking at all those kinds of questions. Was that in any way responsible for the crash? Clearly, we'll want to study that and form our conclusions. I think it's all a bit premature, frankly." The Mayor was speaking in Croydon, south London, after announcing a £1 billion investment for a redevelopment plan in the area.

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