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Police helicopter crashes into packed Glasgow pub, killing at least 8

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By Marian Smith and Elisha Fieldstadt, NBC News

LONDON -- Scottish emergency workers combed the wreckage of a Glasgow pub on Saturday, hoping to find more survivors after a police helicopter slammed into the roof of the crowded music venue, killing at least eight people and injuring dozens of others.

Survivors, including members of the ska band that was playing in the packed pub, described a "horrible scene” after the police chopper crashed.

Grace MacLean, who was inside the pub at the time, said she heard a "whoosh" noise and then saw smoke.

"The band were laughing, and we were all joking that the band had made the roof come down," she told the BBC. "They carried on playing, and then it started to come down more, and someone started screaming, and then the whole pub just filled with dust. You couldn't see anything, you couldn't breathe."

Emergency services inspect the roof of a pub shortly after midnight on Nov. 30, 2013, where a police helicopter crashed in central Glasgow, Scotland. Andy Buchanan / AFP - Getty Images

Among those gathered outside the accident scene on Saturday was John McGarrigle, 38, who said that he believed his 59-year-old father, also named John, had died in the crash.

"His friend told me she went to the toilet, heard the noise and went back into the bar," he told the Associated Press. "He was gone. There was nothing left where he'd been sitting."

Scotland Yard issued an update Saturday afternoon saying that eight people were confirmed dead, including the pilot and two officers aboard the helicopter.

Dr. Jennifer Armstrong, from Greater Glasgow and Clyde hospital, said at a later news conference that 32 injured had been sent to three area hospitals, with 18 treated and discharged and 14 hospitalized with serious injuries, mostly chest, head, long-bone injuries and lacerations. 

Assistant chief officer Lewis Ramsay, of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, said earlier that 125 firefighters were involved in a "methodical" search and rescue operation, including crews trained in shoring up unstable buildings, excavating into collapsed structures and seeking and identifying casualties using specialist equipment.

Witnesses said the helicopter dropped out of the sky and onto the roof of the Clutha Vaults pub on Stockwell Street ''like a stone'' around 10:30 p.m. Friday, sending dozens of panicked patrons fleeing into the streets.

Gordon Smart, editor of the Scottish Sun, was in a nearby building and watched the scene unfold. “It looked like the rotors weren't spinning but the helicopter was sort of turning in a strange position and dropping at great speed,” he told the BBC.

Neighbor Paul Dundas, 26, told the Associated Press that he heard a loud bang and looked out of his window to see a plume of dust rising above the pub. He then went to the street and encountered a "horrible scene."

"People were covered in blood and dust. Other people were dragging them away from the bar and trying to get them out," he said. "Everyone was in shock, but people were helping and asking strangers if they were OK. I saw a couple help each other clean up their faces.

There were no ambulances visible on the scene by late morning Saturday, the AP said, but groups of people huddled around a police cordon, some visibly upset and crying. A blue tarpaulin had been spread on the roof of the pub, but the shapes of the blades and mangled fuselage were clearly visible from the street.

The twin-engine Eurocopter is widely used by police and ambulance services.

In 2007, a Eurocopter EC135 T2 crashed in southern England. The pilot and his wife were unhurt, but the aircraft was badly damaged. Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch said there had been a failure of the autotrim system which maintains the aircraft's position. The agency recommended changes to correct the problem.

Esperanza, the nine-member ska band which was playing in The Clutha when the crash occurred, joined in the heaps of praise showered on rescue officials.

"Waking up and realizing that it is all definitely horribly real," the band wrote on its official Facebook page. "Despite the situation everyone was so helpful and caring of each other. The police, ambulances, firefighters all did a stellar job and continue to do so today."

Glasgow, a city of about 600,000 people, has transformed its traditional image of being a rough and tumble city to one with a vibrant music and arts scene. It was also among the cities that hosted Olympic soccer matches in 2012 and will hold the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

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Speaking at a press conference early Saturday, First Minister Alex Salmond he called it "a black day for Glasgow and for Scotland." He noted that it was St. Andrew's Day -- when Scotland's patron saint is celebrated -- and said, "It's a day we can take pride and courage in how we respond to adversity and tragedy."

Buckingham Palace issued a statement Saturday saying that Queen Elizabeth II sent her thoughts and prayers to the victims of the crash.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted, “My thoughts are with everyone affected by the helicopter crash in Glasgow -- and the emergency services working tonight.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.