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'Like a little 9/11': Helicopter crash shows Londoners still fear terrorism

A helicopter that collided with a construction crane and crashed onto the street killed two and injured nine others in a massive explosion. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

The helicopter crash in busy rush-hour London Wednesday was not terrorism-related. The chopper in fact struck a tall construction crane in heavy fog that left visibility in some areas near zero.

But some people initially had that fear, particularly as it happened close to the MI6 building, Britain's spy headquarters.

The pilot had requested to land at a different place to his originally intended destination.

But Londoners, still very much on alert since the deadly July 7, 2005 bombings of trains and a bus, were immediately reminded of the scenes following those attacks — as well as the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.

One commuter had just left a train station nearby, and said she had been looking up at the tops of buildings, marveling at the thickness of the fog that completely obscured them.

At that moment, she said, she heard an explosion that sounded like a bomb, terrifying people in the area and sending them ducking for cover.

Then she described what looked like a "meteor shower," with many pieces of fiery debris raining down onto the streets.

Still upset as she talked to reporters, the woman said her first thought was that the city was under some sort of attack.

"Like a little 9/11," she said.

'Thought it was a bomb'
Another witness said the same. He suspected the loud bang and resulting fire was likely the work of a terrorist, until word started circulating among commuters that a helicopter was involved.

"I thought it was a bomb, I literally thought it was a bomb," he told reporters.

One man said he saw the chopper land on top of a car, that also burst into flames.  Others saw several vehicles on fire.  Firefighters rescued one man from a burning car.

Even after commuter Mark Louis Sidney realized there was a helicopter, crashed on the ground, he still suspected terrorism, wondering "Wait a minute, has this thing been shot out of the sky or what?"

The London bombings in 2005 were traumatic, killing 52 people and the four bombers.  In some ways, the losses still seem fresh. 

People still tell the stories of those who lost their lives by running a few minutes early or late that morning.  Or those who were spared by the same narrow margins.

In the last few years, Londoners have also instinctively adhered to that common New York directive — "If you see something, say something" —  highly aware of their surroundings during the morning commute. To the point that any loud noise or commotion puts them on edge, looking for the nearest and best escape.

Such would be the case, one would expect, in New York or any other city that has deeply experienced an attack.

But this time, the culprit appears to be an old, old foe: London fog.

Related links:
Two die as helicopter hits crane, crashes on London street
See photographs from the scene of the crash