A POLICE helicopter, caught in a blizzard as it flew to the scene of a

robbery, struck the side of a block of pensioners' flats in Glasgow

yesterday, killing a police sergeant and seriously injuring the other

three occupants.

The rotor blades of the Bell JetRanger -- normally used by Radio Clyde

but on loan to Strathclyde police -- are believed to have clipped the

side of the three-storey building at Eastwood Toll, Glasgow, as the

civilian pilot struggled to keep control during the violent snowstorm.

It fell about 70ft to the ground, trapping the four men in the debris.

The MP for Eastwood, Mr Allan Stewart, is to meet Transport Secretary

Mr Cecil Parkinson today. He wants an inquiry into how the accident

could happen in a built-up area.

Air traffic control at Glasgow Airport confirmed that police

helicopters, along with military helicopters and certain other

operational categories, are exempt from flying restrictions over

built-up areas under the Air Navigation Order. A civilian helicopter,

however, must fly a minimum of 500ft above buildings or people and be

able to land clear if there is loss of power.

The crash occurred soon after lunchtime. The aircraft had been on

routine traffic duty when it received a radio message to divert to a

large store in Paisley to assist in a robbery inquiry.

Moments after impact, motorists ran across to try to rescue the

injured. Two were able to walk from the wreckage. Emergency services

arrived within minutes and, as one team of firemen doused the helicopter

in foam, others used cutting equipment to free the remaining two men.

The man who died was Police Sergeant Malcolm Herd, 32, a father of

four from East Kilbride.

The pilot, Mr Graham Pryke, of Liddesdale Avenue, Paisley, was taken

to the Victoria Infirmary, Glasgow, with severe multiple injuries. He

was later transferred to the Southern General Hospital where he was

''critical'' last night.

The two others -- Inspector John Muir, 44, of East Kilbride, a married

man with two children, and Sergeant William Shields, 32, of Giffnock, a

father of two -- suffered shock and facial abrasions. One had a broken

arm. They were treated at the Southern General Hospital.

Amazingly no-one in the apartment block, known in the area as The

Thumb -- a residence for elderly people in McLaren Court, Eastwood --

was injured. However, as kerosene had escaped from the helicopter on

impact, they were evacuated to a council office nearby. Many were dazed

and confused. The building itself suffered no serious structural damage.

Mr Maurice Felstin, a spokesman for the residents, said he and his

wife heard a loud bang. Mr Felstin, a retired clothing manufacturer,

said: ''At first we thought it might have been thunder but someone

alerted us on our intercom system that a helicopter had smashed into the

side of the building.

''I went out and saw the helicopter all smashed to bits. There was no

sign of any movement from anyone inside. I was amazed at how quickly the

rescue services appeared. We are all just so thankful that more lives

were not lost.''

Ironically, the police helicopter had been originally sent up because

of the bad weather which appears to have contributed to the accident. It

had been carrying out a traffic monitoring exercise as part of a plan

for the evening rush hour and was heading towards the A77 at Fenwick

when the snowstorm struck.

Assistant Chief Constable John Dickson, who was in charge at the crash

scene, said: ''There was a violent storm, both snow and very windy. The

helicopter pilot for some reason -- we think it was flying below the

weather -- struck the building. An investigation is now being conducted.

''CID officers are making inquiries at the hospital regarding

witnesses and an inquiry team from the Civil Aviation Authority will be

investigating the cause of the crash.''

The police have been operating a helicopter service for several

months. The three officers on board were regular members of the ''flying

squad.'' They have their own aircraft but it was grounded yesterday for

routine repairs.

The helicopter which crashed was the familiar ''Irn Bru

Eye-in-the-Sky'' which Radio Clyde uses for its daily breakfast traffic

reports. It had been flying several times during the day. Its last trip

before the police took over involved a Scottish television film crew.

One of the first people on the scene was George Muir, Radio Clyde's

''Captain George.'' He said: ''I was up in it twice today and I reported

that the weather had improved remarkably.''

Eye witnesses reported hearing a loud bang at 2.20pm. Mrs Margaret

Watson, of Netherplace Crescent, who works in a newsagents nearby, said:

''I thought there had been a car crash. Drivers just stopped in the

middle of the road and ran to help.''

Mr Paramjit Jassal, 18, who works in the local Indian restaurant,

said: ''The emergency services were there within minutes. We saw them

with stretchers, trying to pull people out.''

Mrs Kareme Forrester, who lives in Redburn Avenue nearby, was in the

garden with her three-year-old son Calum when it passed overhead. ''It

was waving about and then it disappeared down the side of the flats.

Throughout yesterday's emergency there was no sign of an ambulance

strike. Indeed, Mr Ian Anderson, consultant at the Victoria Infirmary's

accident and emergency department, paid glowing tribute to the ambulance

officers involved. He did not know if they were supposed to be working

or not at the time.

''For our purposes it worked as smoothly as you would expect the

ambulance service to work,'' he said. ''It was a real tribute to the men

and their dedication and I pay tribute to them for doing so.''

The Bell JetRanger is one of the most popular heicopters in service in

Britain and it boasts an excellent safety record. However, Mr Andrew

Healey, of the British Helicopter Advisory Board, said: ''Snow is

something to be avoided because of the visibility problems and for the

risk of ice in the engine. With the JetRanger being a single-engine

helicopter, you have not got a spare.''

The helicopter which Strathclyde police normally use is twin-engine.

A two-man team from the CAA arrived in Glasgow last night to take

charge of the investigation.

The helicopter service was launched by Strathclyde police in November

last year on a five-month experimental basis, using an aircraft leased

from Clyde helicopters at a cost of #198,000.

The aircraft, capable of a speed of 140mph, is used in a variety of

police work, including traffic management and surveillance, searches for

missing persons, and vehicle pursuits. Disquiet was expressed at a

Strathclyde Regional Council meeting last year by some councillors who

claimed the money required for the operation could be better spent by

providing more officers on the beat.

The base for the helicopter operation is the air support unit at

Glasgow heliport, near the Scottish Exhibition Centre.

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