A 165ft crane collapsed in south London last night, killing the operator and a man washing a car nearby.

The driver was thrown through the glass roof of the control cabin and onto the windscreen of a parked car in the disaster near Battersea Power Station.

Schoolboy Tony Ddumba, 15, narrowly escaped when the multi-tonne structure crushed the car washer he had been talking to moments earlier.

"I saw the crane starting to fall and I began to run away as quickly as I could," the shaken teenager told National News. "It came crashing down right beside me and it killed my friend."

Tony had known the victim, a neighbour and bus driver named only as Michael, for five years.

"He went one way and I went the other. I am so lucky just to be alive. I can't believe that I was just talking to him."

'Like a bomb'

The crane, used on a Barratt Homes construction site, fell onto a block of flats on the nearby Patmore Estate in Thessaly Road just before 6pm.

It caused massive damage and a gas leak, which caused 25 of the homes to be evacuated.

"I heard a crashing noise, it was like a bomb had gone off and the settee shuddered," said a resident from an estate block on nearby Savona Street. "It was so loud, that even though I had the TV on, I could hear it."

One man was treated for a minor head injury at St Thomas' Hospital, while a woman suffered shock, the Met police said.

Battersea MP Martin Linton said people in the affected block have been evacuated to a hotel in North London. "I'm in talks to get them moved nearer to Battersea so that they can get to work and school."

The building site previously housed the John Milton Primary School, which was demolished despite opposition from residents.

"It was a really good neighbourhood school," the Battersea MP added. "Residents and I fought against the closure, all the way to the adjudicator, but we lost. Parents and kids felt a tremendous loyalty to it."

An inquiry by inspectors of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is now underway.

A Barratt Homes spokesman said the crane driver was not one of its employees. "We can confirm that he was employed by Falcon Crane Hire, the specialist company which provided the crane and all services related to it."

In a statement, the company added that it would cooperate fully with the HSE investigation. "Our own health and safety team and a senior management team are present on site.

"We will also be carrying out our own investigation."

  • Additional reporting by Carlene Thomas

Updated 17.15pm