Glasgow helicopter crash: 'Sense of utter disbelief' in city

Image caption Across from the crash site floral tributes were being laid. In nearby Argyle Street, shops remained busy.

Just like any other Saturday, particularly one a few weeks before Christmas, Glasgow's Argyle Street is heaving with people.

Shoppers laden with bags weave their way through the city-centre crowds as buskers compete with the big high street stores booming music out of their doors.

Of course this isn't any other Saturday in one of Glasgow's busiest shopping streets.

Only a few hundred yards from Argyle Street, a search and recovery operation is in full flow at the Clutha Bar, an old and much-loved Glasgow institution, after a police helicopter crashed into the roof the night before.

Reports would suggest that the scene inside the Clutha, where emergency services personnel are still working, is one of devastation. Just yards away, however, on the other side of the police cordon, it is difficult to fathom that anything as serious as a helicopter crash has taken place.

Green and blue tarpaulins have been placed over the single rotor blade that is sticking out of the roof, and the single-storey pub, with its whitewashed walls and Celtic lettering, is still standing. There is no debris strewn across Stockwell Street, no dust, no remnants of a fire. Buses pass just 100 yards away, the King Street car park near the pub is full of vehicles arriving with Christmas shoppers and the traffic lights are still working, though there is no traffic on this part of the road.

'Ordinary Friday'

A gathering of journalists, photographers and bystanders just outside another well-known bar, the Scotia, quietly wait for news in the cold. There is a sense of utter disbelief, even among experienced journalists, that this could have happened on an ordinary Friday night in Glasgow.

A man and a woman are allowed through the police cordon to lay bunches of flowers outside the Holiday Inn Express, right across from the pub, where people were taken in the aftermath, and residents in the modern flats surrounding the scene watch from their windows.

As the day goes on some of those involved in the crash return to the scene.

William Byrne from Coatbridge in Lanarkshire, was in the Clutha enjoying a Friday night of live ska when the helicopter crashed into the roof. There was a whoosh of dust, then the lights went out, he says. The band played on for a few moments, unaware, like the audience, of what had happened. People assumed one of the speakers must have blown.

Within seconds Mr Byrne, 45, was helping free two people who were trapped under the bar gantry, assisting the walking wounded to get out. He says as the events unfolded the people in the pub remained calm - "surreally calm" - there was very little screaming, very little talking, people just "helped each other, helped everybody".

He and his friends escaped unscathed, and it wasn't until 20 minutes later that he was told by a policeman that a helicopter had crashed.

Mr Byrne says he is not sure why he returned to the scene just hours after the event. He still can't process what has happened, calling it "preposterous". But asked how he feels as he looks at the Clutha, now partially hidden behind the police cordon, he fills up with tears and struggles to find the right words.

"To hear that people have died..." He looks down and his voice trails off.

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