Clutha Vaults Helicopter Crash: Glasgow, Black Friday 29/11/13; Facts, Reactions, a Poem and Poet John McGarrigle
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
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.
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.
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.
Out of the black,
a late black Friday,
a black and yellow missile fell.
the pilot aiming
to land on the flat, how could he tell?
music and chatter,
'What was that thud?' a reveller yells.
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.
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.
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.
as I sat by my typewriter
climbed in my window,
I was writing a poem
a very interesting little poem
about a flower that I'd seen
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
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?
Sources of Information and Sites to Look At
To see photos of the incident go to:
Ref: John McGorrigle, poet:
Other hubs about people working together
- TEACHING CHILDREN TO WORK AS A TEAM: How to Contribe as an Individual; Hard Work, Achievement, Rewar
How to work as a team is an important skill. This shows how the individual is important to the whole and talks about hard work, achievement and reward, the latter sometimes just being the satisfaction of a job well done.
- Making a Difference by Helping Others
Helping others does not make us weak. In fact it makes us stronger when we are able to help others and make a difference in their lives. Helping do not need money, you can help in so many ways.
© 2013 Ann Carr