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Clutha Vaults Helicopter Crash: Glasgow, Black Friday 29/11/13; Facts, Reactions, a Poem and Poet John McGarrigle

Updated on November 2, 2019
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Ann enjoys writing about topical events & the impact they have on those involved regarding personal affect & social interaction.

The Blackest of Fridays

On Friday 29th November 2013, the eve of St Andrew’s Day, a catastrophe took place in Glasgow, Scotland.

It was already referred to as Black Friday, the day of manic shopping signalling the start of Christmas spending. It became an altogether different ‘black’ Friday when, at 22.25, a police helicopter crashed through the roof of the Clutha Vaults pub in Stockwell Street, part of the centre of Glasgow.

Black and Yellow Police Helicopter

Eurocopter EC135
Eurocopter EC135 | Source

What Happened?

Reports came in of a noise of something tumbling from the sky, of intermittent engine sounds, of a thud heard in the pub where a music group were playing as was often the case on a Friday evening. The pub was packed to capacity, about 120 people chatting, drinking, listening to the music, having a good time at the end of a working week.

It seems the thud was followed by a great billowing of dust and debris as the ceiling on one side of the pub collapsed under the weight of a police helicopter, black and yellow, the sort which patrols cities at night, checking traffic, keeping an eye on the streets so that the inhabitants can rest easy and know they’ll be safe going home.

Clutha Vaults

Clutha Vaults, Glasgow
Clutha Vaults, Glasgow | Source

Where is the Clutha Pub?

Glasgow is one of the largest cities in Scotland. It is traditionally an industrial city with the Clyde docks providing ship-building for many years.

The Clutha Vaults pub is in an area of Glasgow close to the River Clyde, also close to multi-storey flats and car parks.

Did the pilot try to avoid these? Did he try to land in the river?

Did he think the flat roof was an area of flat land? Who knows? It was dark and their situation was already perilous.

Fatalities and Injuries

None of the three aboard the helicopter survived. They were two police officers and a civilian pilot. Six others have died. We also know that out of the 32 injured taken to hospital, 12 had serious injuries. More bodies were thought to be still in the wreckage.

Public Response

Emergencies services responded quickly. However, before they arrived, the public responded remarkably. Many rushed towards the disaster, not knowing how much danger might be waiting and seemingly not caring; their one thought was to help any who needed it. They formed a human chain to convey the injured from the wreckage of the building. Some went inside to search for those who were still alive.



Investigation into the Crash

As is always the case, an investigation has started and maybe we shall have some answers. Witness reports tell of the engine ‘cutting out’. Photos and film show the tail of the helicopter sticking up from the roof and a main rotary blade still intact. The UK’s Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) is the body which carries out investigations into all of Britain’s air crashes, indeed it is used and respected world-wide.

Impact and Aftermath

A black Friday indeed, with an impact on many people’s lives, for ever.

I wanted to try to put all the emotions, the shock, the disbelief and the reactions that I saw on the television into a concise tribute to the victims and the heroes of the Clutha disaster. I had the words of a draft poem going round my head for hours. Here it is.

Clutha Vaults

Out of the black,

a late black Friday,

a black and yellow missile fell.

Plummeting fast,

the pilot aiming

to land on the flat, how could he tell?

Flat-roofed Clutha,

music and chatter,

'What was that thud?' a reveller yells.

Seconds later,

crashed through and crushing,

the weight sends dust, debris and smell.

A silence deep,

shock, blood and injured,

with bodies lying in a spell.

Then people rush

from outside inwards,

creating a chain, a route from hell.

Survivors walk,

calm, dazed, stunned, shaking,

though some will ne'er again be well.

Straight from the sky,

it fell like a stone,

to miss the high-rise, some asleep.

Now questions asked,

'Why did it happen?'

Investigation, till then keep

our minds open

for those who suffer,

for those whose thoughts forever leap

to that sad night

when peace and laughter

became a void where nightmares creep.

AFC 2014

Personal Thoughts

I would like to say that I can only begin to imagine what the immensity of that impact must have been like, that my thoughts go with the dead, the injured and their families and friends who must have suffered terribly and no doubt will suffer for years to come. My heart goes out, too, to those in that helicopter - they knew, a long few minutes before anyone else, what would happen.

What possible good could emerge from this situation?

For me, it's knowing that so many people risked their own safety to help those who were involved. They came in their hundreds to do what they could and they worked together. That is true human courage and compassion. That gives me hope for mankind.

So often a disaster brings us together, working towards a common goal. Why can’t we have a common goal all the time, every day?

Think of those who suffered here, indeed all those who suffer around the globe, when you enjoy your special times with your family and be thankful.

Information on the Police Helicopter

It's called the Eurocopter EC135 T2. It's a light utility, twin-engined civil helicopter made in Germany.

This type of helicopter is used by the police and ambulance services and first entered service in 1996. More than 1,000 are now in operation.


The above is a snapshot of that weekend, from the Friday night to the following Monday morning.

Further developments and information are recorded here:

Evening of 2/12/13:

It has been reported that there was no 'MayDay' call. There is no 'black box' flight recorder on this type of helicopter. The crumpled remnants of the helicopter have been removed and taken to the AAIB in Hampshire.

Eye-witness reports include seeing the helicopter tumble 'nose over tail' as it came down, as well as emitting the noise of an engine misfiring.

Some who were in the lesser affected half of the pub say they heard what seemed to be a loud eplosion and saw a flash, before the cloud of dust enveloped all.

Evening of 9/12/13:

An interim report from the investigation team says they have found no evidence of mechanical failure in the engine or gear box.


We hear that a 10th person has died as a result of the crash; he was one of those taken to hospital.

It was reported that Bond Air Services had withdrawn all 22 of their EC135 helicopters from service after a fuel gauge fault was found on the North West Air Ambulance while safety checks were being carried out. However, all have now been returned to service.


An interim report has stated that the crash was caused by double engine failure, due to a fuel supply problem, despite the helicopter having plenty of fuel.

24 July 2015:

Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, pulled one of the first pints as the Clutha Vaults opened on the afternoon of Friday 24th July 2015, 600 days after the tragic helicopter crash which claimed so many lives.

4 September 2016:

The Daily Record newspaper reported:

‘Clutha victims blast 'repulsive' bid to blame pilot for helicopter crash as secret report reveals fuel gauge fault’

At almost 3 years on from this tragic crash, it seems also that there is continued delay in the setting up of the FAI (Fatal Accident Inquiry). It has been pushed to ‘early next year’, something which is causing ‘torture’ and grief for the families of victims. The son of the pilot is trying to clear his father’s name. It has been hinted at several times that there was a fuel blockage or a lack of indication regarding fuel levels.

31 October 2019:

Finally the FAI has been completed. Sadly, it found that pilot error was the main factor. The pilot failed to follow emergency procedure, ignoring low fuel warnings.

There seems to be a contradiction of reports in that one says there was plenty of fuel and the final one which refers to 'low fuel warnings'. In the end, it was a tragedy, an accident, in which the pilot and nine others lost their lives; what a waste.

A Tribute to One of the Dead: John McGarrigle, a Glasgow Poet

John McGarrigle, 59, was a poet who performed often at the Clutha Vaults. He also went there to enjoy an evening with friends and listen to live music on a Friday night.

His son, also called John, searched and waited for his father for hours after the crash, hoping against hope that his father would be a survivor, though he said that deep down he knew he was dead.

This Glasgow poet was well-known and revered in his home city and beyond.

Two of John McGarrigle's Poems

Old Young Man.

Unemployment. Rising prices

Never bothered me before

Now, struggling for subsistance

I slowly realised my wasted years

steeped in ignorance

The brashness of youth has gone

Leaving behind an emptiness

not easy to define

Old before my time

I yearn for contentment

Where has the young lad gone

That angry young man

That shook his fist in careless anger

At any unfair society?

Shall we ever see him again

Write Nice Things.

last night

as I sat by my typewriter

a junkie

climbed in my window,

I was writing a poem

a very interesting little poem

about a flower that I'd seen

that day,

the junkie battered my wife

stole all of our money

and when he left

took with him

my television set

and my hi fi unit,

this unfortunate little incident

rather disturbed me

it really put me off writing

my little poem

about the birds and bees

and the flower that I'd seen

so, I wrote about the wind and the trees


Two poems from 'Glasgow's McGarrigle', Fat Cat Publications, ISBN 187 1009 014

Clutha River

Gold bearing Clutha River in the Clutha Valley, New Zealand
Gold bearing Clutha River in the Clutha Valley, New Zealand | Source

What is the meaning of 'Clutha'?

It appears to be a Gaelic word.

According to 'Oxford Dictionaries' Clutha is 'a gold-bearing river at the southern end of the South Island, New Zealand'. There are many Scots in that area of New Zealand so it makes sense that the Gaelic word has been used.

Other meanings I've come across are:

  • the Gaelic for the River Clyde (an extension of the definition above)
  • a Scottish country dance like an eightsome reel.

All seem to fit the naming of the 'Clutha Vaults'. It's by the River Clyde and they have live music; a place by the river where singing and dancing take place. Let's hope there will be singing and dancing there again some day soon. The owner has expressed his intention to repair the building and continue running the pub.

News about the Disaster

Have you been following the news about this disaster?

See results

Sources of Information and Sites to Look At

To see photos of the incident go to:

Ref: John McGorrigle, poet:

© 2013 Ann Carr


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    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      mylindaelliott: yes, it was a terrible accident. We're still waiting for the results of the investigation and it's faded from the news now. I appreciate you stopping by and thanks for commenting.

    • mylindaelliott profile image


      6 years ago from Louisiana

      I don't watch the news so I tend to miss things like this. I'm so sorry to hear of all this.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thanks IzzyM. You must have been worried sick! It was something that really got me probably from the 'bolt out of the blue' aspect and the fact that people were so calm. Thank God there was no fire!

      I appreciate you taking the time to read & comment.

    • IzzyM profile image


      6 years ago from UK

      Thanks for writing this. This is a very sad and shocking event to have happened. I myself, panicked for a while until I knew all my own family were safe (they live in Glasgow). I've been in the Clutha Vaults and am sorry to see it hit the headlines in such a tragic way. So sad for all those people who lost their lives.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Yes Hackslap, it's taken the wind out of everyone's sails. Thanks for stopping by. Ann

    • Hackslap profile image


      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      I had been following this crash live on BBC-World down from Australia .... it was quite a shock that somethin like this would happen out of the blue ... I guess when someone's time's up just is..

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thank you Eddy and thanks also for sharing this. All our hearts here are going out to those who have lost relatives and friends and to those who are suffering from their injuries. We have just found out that more bodies have been driven away from the site. I greatly appreciate your visit. Ann

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      This is so sad and thank you for sharing this hub. My heart goes out to all concerned. Voting up and sharing.


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      cam8510: Thank you for reading and for your lovely comments. Although this is obviously nothing like the scale of 9/11 in most respects, the human help element is the same, as you say, and the shock of such a sudden impact is also on a parallel. Neither, of course, are the sorrow and pain of the families diminished; we have seen some distressing interviews on the television. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment; the updates will appear as soon as I find out more. Ann

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      HSchneider: Thank you for your kind comments. We're still finding out how others helped. Sadly, there are still people unaccounted for, assumed to be still in the rubble. I appreciate your visit and time. Ann

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Ann, This brings back memories of 9/11 when people were running up rather than down the stairs of the towers. Thank you for bringing this to our attention in such an effective and compassionate way. I'll watch for your updates.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      No one ever knows exactly why tragedies like this occur. They certainly bring out the best in people as they rush to aid those injured. Our hearts are with you Glasgow. Excellent reporting and poetry, Annart.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      sallybea: Thank you. Yes we're all thinking of those who are suffering in one way or another. It seems a few more have left hospital so that's a blessing at least. Good of you to drop by. Ann

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      6 years ago from Norfolk

      annart - our hearts and minds are on those who have lost family and friends in the helicopter crash. To those injured I hope and pray that they recover very soon from their terrible ordeal. It is really uplifting to hear how everyone pulled together. Thanks for sharing.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      always exploring: Thanks for visiting and your kind comments. Good to see you this morning. Ann

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, billy. Good to see you as always. Yes, it's uplifting even in such sadness. We're now seeing the stories of those who survived and relatives of those who died.

      Time to get on with the good parts of life; my daughter's birthday celebrations today! Have a good Sunday, bill. Ann

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I saw this on the evening news. How very sad. Your poetry is touching. Thank you..

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      We simply never know, do we? There is no possible way to predict that something like that will happen; leaves us thanking the stars that we survived yet another day. My heart is always uplifted by the courageous acts of those who rally to help complete strangers in times like this.

      Thanks for the information. Of course we had heard about it but the info was a bit sketchy.



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