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Fatal helicopter crash casts pall over Scottish holiday

 

November 30 is the feast day of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland. However, what should have been a national day of celebration was instead a day of national mourning after a police helicopter crashed into a packed Glasgow pub Friday evening, killing eight people and seriously injuring 14 others. 

All three aboard the chopper were killed in the crash, while five others were found dead inside the pub. In all, 32 people were admitted to three hospitals in the city. 18 of the injured had been discharged as of Sunday morning. The injuries were described as being mostly mostly chest, spinal and head injuries as well as fractures and lacerations.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond ordered flags flown at half-staff outside all government buildings. A special prayer service was to be held at Glasgow Cathedral Sunday.

"This is a black day for Glasgow and Scotland, but it's also St. Andrew's Day, and it's a day we can take pride and courage in how we respond to adversity and tragedy," Salmond said Saturday.

Chief constable Stephen House said Saturday specialist teams are working to make sure everyone is recovered from the scene, where revelers were packed into The Clutha Bar to hear a local ska band when the helicopter crashed through the roof.

Police described the ongoing rescue and recovery operation as being "very sensitive and complex," and it is not at all clear what, if anything, will be found once the wreckage of the helicopter is removed. That process alone could take days.

Sky News spoke to relatives of two people who were believed to be in the pub at the time of the crash. Alex Healy said she had not heard from her cousin, while John McGarrigle said that he had been told the his father, also named John, had been seated at the precise spot where the helicopter had come down, and was almost certainly dead. 

Three of the eight confirmed victims have been named. Gary Arthur, 48, of Paisley, Scotland, was in the pub at the time of the crash. David Traill, believed to be in his 50s, is thought to have been at the controls of the craft when the crash happened. The BBC reported the name of one of the police officers who died on board the helicopter as Kristy Nelis.

Photos taken at the scene on Stockwell Street, located near the banks of the River Clyde, showed the helicopter smashed into the roof of The Clutha pub. The crash, which occurred around 10:30 p.m., appeared to cave in parts of the bar's roof. 

Labour party spokesman Jim Murphy, who was present at the scene, helped pull people out of the pub.

"I just saw dozens and dozens of people coming out of the pub," he told Sky News. "It is a horrible, horrible scene."

He added that people had formed a human chain to help pass unconscious people out of the pub so that "inch by inch, we could get the people out."

Fraser Gibson, 34, who was inside the pub, described to the BBC what he said sounded like "a giant explosion."

"Part of the room was covered in dust. We didn't know what had happened. We froze for a second; there was panic and then people trying to get out the door."

He estimated that there were perhaps 120 people inside the bar at the time of the crash.

"There was no fireball and I did not hear an explosion," said Gordon Smart, editor of the Scottish edition of the Sun newspaper. "It fell like a stone. The engine seemed to be spluttering."

Claire Morris, who lives near the Clutha bar, told BBC News: "We heard this bang. We didn't really know what had happened and then we heard people coming out and screaming.

"I wasn't sure whether there had been an explosion. My daughter said to me it was a helicopter that had hit the roof.

"Police are everywhere. We are just very shaken."

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: "My thoughts are with everyone affected by the helicopter crash in Glasgow — and the emergency services working tonight."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.