Officials praise courage of those who helped as search continues after helicopter crashed into pub.
A painstaking operation to recover the remains of at least eight people killed when a police helicopter crash-landed on a busy pub in Glasgow continued yesterday, with a final figure for the dead yet to emerge.
Police still held out hope that survivors could be found, as rescue workers continued the difficult task of shoring up the shattered roof of the Clutha Vaults bar. The roof collapsed at 10.25 on Friday night local time (11.25am Saturday NZT), trapping scores of customers, after the Eurocopter EC135 T2 had a catastrophic loss of power and hit the building on the banks of the river Clyde.
Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, ordered flags to fly at half-mast on government buildings to mark "a black day for Glasgow and Scotland" as accident investigators tried to establish what had caused one of Britain's worst urban aviation disasters of recent times.
He told the BBC on Sunday that of the 12 people still hospitalized, three are in intensive care but they are in stable condition.
As dusk fell over the scene, Chief Constable Sir Stephen House disclosed that eight people had been confirmed killed, including the helicopter's civilian pilot and two police officers on board. The five other dead were killed in the bar. Police named one of the victims as Gary Arthur, 48, from Paisley.
A police spokesman said: "Extensive efforts continue to recover the remaining bodies from the scene but due to ongoing safety constraints this is likely to take some time."
Up to 120 people were thought to have been inside the single-storey bar where a local ska band, Esperanza, had been playing. Specialist search and rescue dogs from Trossachs mountain rescue team were brought in to search for fatalities and possible survivors.
Immediately after the crash, 32 people were taken to hospital, many rescued by a human chain of uninjured customers and passersby, including East Renfrewshire Labour MP Jim Murphy.
Police saluted the courage of those who had ignored the risk of an explosion or a further collapse of the building to join the rescue effort.
Sir Stephen said the fire brigade was working very carefully to secure the building and was yesterday still treating it as a rescue operation with possible survivors still inside.
"This is a complex and ongoing rescue operation. It will not be a quick operation. It's a very complex and indeed dangerous scene," he said.
"I commend the courage of people in Glasgow who, heedless of their own safety, took immediate action at the scene."
An inquiry into the cause of the crash has been launched by the Air Accident Investigation Branch and the Crown Office prosecution service.
Witnesses said the helicopter seemed to "drop like a stone" from the sky, but aviation experts said the EC135 T2 was a very modern aircraft with a good safety record. There have been significant safety alerts recently, however, with cracks found in the main rotor hubs of some EC135s.
As the scale of the disaster emerged on Saturday, sombre political leaders praised the rescuers and offered condolences to the families of victims.
Glasgow Council cancelled its St Andrew's Day celebrations in George Square while the archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia, held a special mass at the city's cathedral. Football matches across Scotland were delayed by a minute's silence.
Salmond said: "This is a black day for Glasgow and Scotland, but it's also St Andrew's Day and it's a day we can take pride and courage in how we respond to adversity and tragedy."
Earlier fears over safety
It's the workhorse of Britain's fleet of air ambulance and police helicopters, but questions are being raised over the safety record of the Eurocopter EC135 Type 2, one of which crashed into the Clutha pub.
It emerged yesterday that the helicopter, which was operated for Police Scotland by Bond Air Services, was one of dozens of aircraft grounded last year over safety fears.
With a cruising speed of up to 250km/h, the twin-engined EC135 has become popular with police and ambulance services, but the Type 2 variant has been the subject of two recent European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) emergency air-worthiness directives.
On September 23, the body warned of stiffness in the "main rotor actuators" of the variant, which could lead to "reduced control of the helicopter".
In May last year, it reported a "crack detected" on parts of the "main rotor hub shaft", which could "lead to loss of the helicopter".
The EASA alert led to the grounding of 22 EC135 aircraft operated by Bond Air Services in Britain, including the aircraft that crashed.