TWO people died today when a helicopter crashed into a crane in central London and cartwheeled to the ground.

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The stricken aircraft exploded into flames after hitting the crane, on top of a tower block by the River Thames, before crashing into a street during rush hour.

Burning wreckage and aviation fuel covered the road as witnesses reported seeing cars on fire and hearing people screaming.

The Metropolitan Police said two people died at the scene and two had been taken to hospital.

The crane was on top of a building called The Tower, in the St George Wharf development, and is billed to be one of Europe’s tallest residential towers.

The building is only a few hundred metres from MI6 and is situated on a busy roundabout.

Eyewitness Michael Gavin saw the accident while he was standing at Vauxhall station.

“I was facing the building when it happened and I heard a loud bang,” he told BBC News.

“The top of the crane was actually obscured by fog so I didn’t see the impact. But I heard a bang and saw the body of the helicopter falling to the ground along with pieces of the crane and then a large plume of smoke afterwards.”

Erin Rogers was waiting at a bus stop outside Vauxhall station.

He told BBC News: “It was a bit surreal actually. I just had a coffee in my hand, I looked up, heard a bang and saw bits of crane debris falling to the floor.

“Then the helicopter was in flames. The rest of the people at the bus station were looking on going ‘What was that?’.

“It’s something I will never forget for a long time.”

Chris Yates, an independent aviation expert, told Sky News: “Helicopters are not supposed to come within 500 feet of any structure such as a high-rise building, so we don’t know what caused the pilot to get quite so close.

“We don’t know the circumstances he was operating in at the time - whether there was a problem with the helicopter itself, whether he misread his instructions or received false instructions from air traffic control.”

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