A stunt pilot and one other person have been killed after a helicopter collided with a high-rise crane in central London and plunged more than 700 feet to the busy streets below.

Pete Barnes, who has piloted helicopters for movies such as Die Another Day, was alone in the aircraft amid thick cloud when it clipped the structure on top of one of Europe's largest skyscrapers.

The AgustaWestland 109 Power hurtled to the ground and exploded into flames just yards from Vauxhall Station, claiming the lives of Mr Barnes and another person on the ground. Twelve people were also injured, including one person with a broken leg, although police said it was a "miracle" more were not hurt.

Kevin Hodgson, who worked alongside Mr Barnes on life-saving missions with the Great North Air Ambulance (GNAA), said: "Pete was as good a guy as you can imagine and one of the best pilots I've ever had the pleasure of flying with."

In the aftermath of the crash, questions were raised over the safety of aircraft flying over London, especially as the number of high-rise blocks being built increases. But sources said lights fitted to the crane were in place and were checked twice daily - including on Tuesday.

Commander Neil Basu, of the Metropolitan Police, said: "It was something of a miracle that this was not many, many times worse." In one case of good fortune, it was reported that the crane driver avoided near-certain death because he was late for his shift and had not reached his cabin.

Witnesses described hearing a loud bang and a flash of light as debris scattered across the sky and the twin-engine aircraft crashed near Wandsworth Road. Video footage and photos flooded on to social media sites revealing chaotic scenes, burning wreckage and vehicles charred by flames.

Eyewitness and mother-of-five Sharon Moore, who lives on the nearby Wyvil estate, said she saw the aircraft slice through the crane "as if it was a piece of paper". She added: "The helicopter did not seem to know which way to turn and then it just dropped, it sliced, screeching into the metal."

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said lighting of cranes and tall buildings will be reviewed, but that it would be "premature" to second guess the investigation into Wednesday's helicopter smash.

Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the emergency services. He said: "The whole House will wish to join with me in sending their thanks to the emergency services for their rapid and professional response to this situation."