The pilot who crashed his helicopter into a newly-built tower in central London, killing himself and a second person on the street below, was today named as experienced aviator Pete Barnes.
He had requested to divert via Heathrow air traffic control and land at Battersea Heliport, due to bad weather conditions, when the helicopter hit a construction crane at the top of the tower near Vauxhall Bridge at 8am.
Mr Barnes, 50, who flew a helicopter for James Bond film Die Another Day and had been an air ambulance pilot, was pronounced dead at the scene.
The AgustaWestland AW109 twin-engine helicopter, which struck the under-construction The Tower St George Wharf, was reported to have been carrying Mr Barnes but no passengers. One witness claimed the crane driver had a lucky escape after being unusually late for work.
The aircraft hit the ground just 20 yards from Vauxhall station, which is a major commuting hub in the capital. It was using the route of the River Thames and was believed to have been heading from Redhill, Surrey, to Elstree, Hertfordshire, to collect an executive.
Witnesses reported very low cloud at the time of the accident, suggesting the pilot may not have seen the crane, which was barely visible from street level. At least two cars were hit by debris. The area was evacuated because of the precarious position of the crane at the top of the tower.
Five of the injured were taken to hospital and the other seven were treated at the scene, ambulance officials said. Three were taken to St Thomas’ Hospital. Two went to King’s College Hospital but were discharged by the afternoon. A reception centre for members of public involved in the incident was also set up by London Ambulance Service staff.
Pauline Cranmer of London Ambulance Service said: ‘There were a number of injuries that would potentially be consistent with being hit by debris. Our primary concern is about treating the injuries.’ She added that two people were pronounced dead at the scene by air ambulance crews.
Mr Barnes was a former ski instructor who had worked for charter company RotorMotion since 1997. In a wide-ranging UK career spanning 18 years, he had done everything from fly air ambulances to working as a pilot on adverts, TV programmes and films
He contributed to filming for the BBC and Sky News, and worked on films such as Die Another Day, Tomb Raider II and Saving Private Ryan, as well as providing his services to adverts and sporting events, and has been described as one of the most experienced Agusta pilots in the UK.
Mr Barnes, a graduate of the University of Derby, claimed on his LinkedIn online profile to have 25 years of experience as a pilot, and said he had clocked up more than 10,500 hours of flying in a helicopter – as well as 500 hours flying a plane.
In 2004 he helped rescue a motorist from a flooded ford in County Durham, while working for the Great North Air Ambulance. He also flew the Newcastle Traffic & Travel helicopter as the Voice of Metro FM and worked as a helicopter instructor.
Captain Philip Amadeus, managing director of RotorMotion, said the aircraft was on a commercial flight from Redhill, in Surrey, to Elstree. He said: ‘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.’
One eyewitness said the helicopter was ‘rocking and shaking from side to side’ before crashing. A worker at the New Covent Garden Flower Market, around 200 yards from the crash site, said some debris from the crash – believed to be the gearbox – hit somebody working there in the leg.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution was searching the Thames as part of the emergency services’ response to the accident. The charity launched an inshore lifeboat in the aftermath of the crash.
Terry Alkins, 28, and Joe O’Dwyer, 44, were working on an adjacent building site when the helicopter crashed into the crane.
Mr Alkins said: ‘It was around 8am and we just heard this massive bang. We ran off the site and down the road and seconds later we saw the helicopter or what was left of it in flames lying on the road.
Mr O’Dywer added: ‘It was so foggy this morning that you couldn’t see the crane, which is attached to the residential tower that’s being built.’
The London Fire Brigade said it had received numerous calls about the incident. Eight fire engines and four fire rescue units and 88 firefighters plus officers attended the scene.
Source: The Daily Mail