The Geographical Journal

Aviation Sagas: When Human and Physical Collide

by Jen Turner


On Wednesday 16th January, two people were killed and 13 injured when a helicopter crashed into a crane in central London.  Police said the helicopter had hit the crane on top of The Tower, One St George Wharf at about 08:00 GMT.  About 90 firefighters attended the scene near Wandsworth Road in South Lambeth.

Part of the crane was left hanging from the side of the building. London Fire Brigade reported that part of the tail section of the helicopter landed on roof of the building and the main section landed in Wandsworth Road, hitting two cars. The fire from the helicopter ignited two buildings. Police understood that the helicopter was on a scheduled flight from Redhill in Surrey to Elstree in Hertfordshire. A spokesman for London Heliport at Battersea said the pilot had requested to divert and land there due to bad weather.  The BBC weather centre said weather observations at the time of the crash showed very low cloud but not thick fog. The nearest observation site was London City Airport which at 08:00 reported 700m visibility with broken cloud at a height of 100ft.

The impact of geographical events upon aviation transport have been widely considered within the geography discipline.  In a 2011 Geographical Journal article Amy Donovan and Clive Oppenheimer discuss events of April 2010 when the Icelandic volcano – Eyjafjallajökull – erupted, demonstrating the increasing vulnerability of the modern world to relatively small volcanic eruptions when air traffic was halted across the world (an impact directly felt by geographers such as myself ‘stranded’ Stateside after the Association of the American Geographers Annual Meeting in Washington). In a later commentary, Donovan and Oppenheimer reflect on several recent incidents involving intersecting human and physical geographies, including the eruption of Grímsvötn volcano in South Iceland in May 2011.  Furthermore, in March, the devastating M9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan showed that even the best prepared nations face massive losses as a result of geophysical hazards.  By bringing these and other examples to light, Donovan and Oppenheimer use recent geophysical events to explore the intersection between the human and physical geographies of risk, examining in particular the peculiarities of volcanic risk to draw conclusions about social management of uncertainty more broadly.

Whilst it is likely that last week’s helicopter crash in London was a horrific accident, and a distant comparison to the geohazards that are the subject of the paper mentioned, there is no doubt that it remains another indicator of the fragile relationship between human and physical infrastructures, and the catastrophic events that any damage to the equilibrium may cause.     


Amy Donovan and Clive Oppenheimer, 2011, The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption and the reconstruction of geographyThe Geographical Journal, 177: 4-11.

books_iconAmy Donovan and Clive Oppenheimer, 2012, The aviation sagas: geographies of volcanic riskThe Geographical Journal, 178 (2): 98-103

60-world2 London helicopter crash: Two die in Vauxhall crane accidentBBC News, 16 Jan 2012.


Leave a Reply or Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: