Helicopter crash casts pall over Scotland’s national day

GLASGOW - The pubs were festooned with flags for Scotland's Saint Andrew's Day festivities, but a day after a police helicopter made a fatal plunge into a Glasgow bar, nobody felt like celebrating.

Desperate friends waited all day on Saturday at the edge of a police cordon set up around the Clutha pub, hoping for news of loved ones who were inside the packed city-centre nightspot on Friday night when the police helicopter came down.

Eight people died, including three on the helicopter and five in the pub, and 32 were injured.

At the Clutha's nearby rival, the Scotia, blue-and-white Scottish flags hung behind the bar to mark the day of Scotland's patron saint Andrew, along with gaudy Christmas decorations.

But the festive scene clashed with the sombre mood among the drinkers.

Robert McKay, a 57-year-old plumber, was waiting there for news of two missing friends. He believed a third friend had already been confirmed dead.

"I had three pals in there," he told AFP as he stepped outside the Scotia for a cigarette. "You stay hopeful, but..." He trailed off, his eyes on the tarpaulin-covered wreck sticking out of the Clutha's ruined roof.

Like many of those nursing pints at the Scotia, McKay was also a regular at the Clutha, whose popular live band performances meant it was always jam-packed at 10:30 pm on a Friday, when the disaster struck.

"There's a big group of us who've been drinking here for 30 years, bouncing between the two pubs," he said. "It's a real lively place, especially when there's live music on."

More than 100 people were inside when the chopper crashed in the centre of Scotland's biggest city. As well as the eight confirmed dead, 14 people remain seriously injured, police said.


'You have to hope'

Glasgow's council cancelled a traditional ceildih dance in the city centre to celebrate Saint Andrew's Day, while Scottish flags flew at half-mast over government buildings nationwide.

A minute's silence was held ahead of a football cup match between Rangers, a Glasgow team, and Falkirk.

It later emerged that the first victim to be named, Gary Arthur, was the father of a player for the women's first team of Celtic, Rangers' local rivals.

As darkness fell in Glasgow on Saturday, hundreds of journalists and passers-by remained at the edge of the cordon - along with a few still waiting for news, good or bad.

A middle-aged woman, who did not want to be named, stood in tears hoping to hear from a friend who was drinking at the Clutha at the time of the crash. "I just haven't been able to contact her," she said. "And now I'm fearing the worst. But what can you do? You have to hope."

Emergency workers worked into a second night, with some peering into the wreckage from a crane. Several fire engines remained on the scene.

But in a city famed for its drinking, revellers piled into the throbbing pubs and clubs as usual - many expressing fervent gratitude that they were not in the Clutha when the helicopter struck.

"It could have happened to us, sitting right here," said laundry worker Anne Savage as she sat with friends outside a central Glasgow bar in defiance of the freezing cold.

"It's a shocking, shocking thing. You don't expect a helicopter to fall out of the sky when you're on a night out, do you?"

Connor Chatterton, a 17-year-old student, had been out with friends nearby on Friday when he heard the whistle of the falling helicopter, followed by a huge bang.

"I heard it flying low, but I didn't think anything of it," he told AFP. "They fly over Glasgow all the time. Then I heard this noise, like a 'pfft', and a big bang."

Musician Connor O'Neil, who has performed at the Clutha several times, said its noisy acoustics meant that people in part of the venue may not have realised what was happening at first.

"You hear banging all the time when you're playing that place," the 21-year-old told AFP. "The last thing you think is, 'Oh, it's probably a crashing helicopter."

He added: "It's a lovely bar. For lots of people in there it would have been the last payday before Christmas - just working class people, having a good night out."