A helicopter crashed into a crane and fell on a crowded street in central London during rush hour on Wednesday, sending flames and black plumes of smoke into the air, and killing the pilot and one person on the ground while injuring 13, officials said.

The helicopter crashed in misty weather just south of the River Thames near the Underground and mainline train station at Vauxhall, and close to the headquarters of spy agency MI6.

1 St George Wharf, LondonSite of the building where helicopter hit crane

Police said one person had critical injuries. Six were taken to a nearby hospital with "minor injuries" and seven treated at the scene, London Ambulance Service said.

"It was something of a miracle that this was not many, many times worse," said police Cmdr. Neil Basu.

The pilot, who was killed, had requested to divert and land at the nearby London Heliport due to bad weather, the heliport said in a statement.

"The London Heliport never gained contact with the helicopter," the statement said.

'I was 100 per cent sure it was a terrorist attack. There was debris everywhere, a ton of black smoke. Parts of the crane, parts of the helicopter.'—Allen Crosbie, witness

The aircraft, an AgustaWestland 109, was on a commercial flight, said Philip Amadeus, managing director of RotorMotion, an executive helicopter charter business.

"Our main priority now is for the family of the pilot and we extend our greatest sympathy to the friends and relatives of those who have died and been injured," Amadeus said.

The company would not immediately confirm reports by British media that the pilot was Pete Barnes, whose career included flying in films including the James Bond movie "Die Another Day."

The horrific scene unfolded at the height of the morning commute when thousands of pedestrians in the area were trying to get to work. The weather at the time was overcast and misty with fog and poor visibility, according to weather forecasting service the Met Office.

Video on Sky News showed wreckage burning in a street, and black smoke in the area. The video from the crash scene showed a line of flaming fuel and debris. Witnesses said the helicopter hit a crane atop a 50-storey residential building, the St. George Wharf Tower.

A passerby, Quin Murray, told CBC's Heather Hiscox that he missed being caught in the falling wreckage by only a few metres, adding that had he been 20 seconds earlier on his way to work, he would have been under the debris.

"I was on my bike, on my usual commute to work, and something caught my eye, and I saw this — you know, the helicopter crashing into the crane, and plummeting to Earth, and exploding into a ball of fire and smoke," Murray said.

A shaken Murray said he was taking the rest of the day off from work to collect himself.

"I was 100 per cent sure it was a terrorist attack," said Allen Crosbie, site manager for the landscape firm Maylim Ltd., who was working at the scene.

"There was debris everywhere, a ton of black smoke. Parts of the crane, parts of the helicopter. I heard bang, bang — I presume it was the helicopter hitting the crane and then the ground. People were just panicking."

William Belsey, 25, a landscape worker, also said he heard the helicopter hit the crane.

si-helictoper-300

A general view of emergency vehicles as they approach the site of a helicopter crash in central London, and showing damage to a crane on the side of St. George's Tower. A helicopter crashed into before falling to ground on Wednesday. Two people were killed. (Sarah Grun/Associated Press)

"Luckily the crane operator was late for work this morning. He picked a good day to be late," Belsey said.

Police Commander Neil Basu said one of the dead was the pilot of the commercial helicopter, which had been flying from Redhill, south of London. No one else was thought to be aboard, Basu said; the other fatality was a person on the ground.

British aviation authorities had issued a "notice to airmen" warning pilots about the crane, which extended to 235 metres above ground. The crane is lit at night, and police said investigators would look at whether the light was faulty.

The area, roughly 10 blocks from the major Waterloo train and Underground station, is extremely congested during the morning rush hour. Many commuters arrive at the main line stations from London's southern suburbs and transfer to buses or trains there.

Aviation expert Chris Yates said that weather may have played a role. Investigators also would look at whether the crane had navigation lights.

"The question then becomes whether the pilot was fit," Yates said.

With files from CBC News