London helicopter crash: Pilot's death 'devastating'

Capt Pete Barnes Image copyright Hotspot Media
Image caption Capt Pete Barnes had amassed 12,000 flying hours

Tributes have been paid to a pilot who died when a helicopter crashed into a crane in London.

An investigation is now under way into how Capt Pete Barnes, 50, hit the crane on The Tower, One St George Wharf, in Vauxhall, on Wednesday morning.

A second person who died on the ground is believed to be Matthew Wood, 39, of Sutton, south London.

Mr Barnes had flown for Redhill firm Rotormotion for 15 years and colleagues described him as "highly skilled".

Cars and two buildings caught fire after the burning wreckage fell into Wandsworth Road.

'Saved lives'

The stretch between Vauxhall Cross and Queenstown Road is expected to remain closed in both directions until at least next week as investigations continue.

According to the BBC's Ben Ando, Mr Wood was killed as he made his way on foot to his job at Rentokil.

Five people were taken to hospital, one suffered a broken leg while the others had minor injuries.

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Media captionKevin Hodgson, of the Great North Air Ambulance Service, said he saved "a lot of lives''

Capt Philip Amadeus, managing director of Rotormotion, said: "We are devastated by the loss of a highly valued colleague and very dear friend.

"Our thoughts and condolences are with Peter's wife and children."

The experienced pilot, from near Reading in Berkshire, who had amassed 12,000 flying hours, had asked to be diverted to a nearby heliport because of bad weather.

BBC weather centre said observations at the time showed very low but not thick fog.

Kevin Hodgson, director of operations at the Great North Air Ambulance Service, worked alongside Mr Barnes for several years, flying on life-saving missions across the North.

"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," he said.

Mr Barnes also flew for the Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance Service.

Derby Hospitals NHS Trust tweeted: "Very sad to hear tragic news of death of air ambulance pilot Pete Barnes, he made many visits to our helipad at Royal Derby Hospital."

Metropolitan Police Commander Neil Basu told BBC News it was "miraculous" the crash was not much worse.

Five people were taken to hospital. Seven people were treated at the scene.

Falling debris

It is thought some of the injured were hit by falling debris.

Tony Pidgley, chairman of site developer Berkeley, said the crane driver was not in the crane because of the "fog level".

He told Construction News: "The operative is just not allowed up that crane in conditions like that because you just can't see".

Part of the crane was left hanging from the side of the residential building, which is still under construction.

London Fire Brigade said part of the tail section of the helicopter landed on the roof of the building and the main section landed in Wandsworth Road, hitting two cars. The fire from the helicopter ignited two buildings.

The helicopter left Redhill in Surrey at 07:35 on a scheduled flight in Elstree in Hertfordshire however it was diverted to Battersea heliport.

NATS, which runs air traffic control across the UK, said Mr Barnes had been receiving assistance earlier in the flight but not at the time of the crash.

'Spinning out of control'

The Civil Aviation Authority said a warning about the crane involved in the crash had been issued to pilots in October and again on 7 January.

Witness Michael Krumstets was on his way to work with a friend when he saw the helicopter clip the crane and heard a loud crack.

"It started spinning out of control and directly towards us. It took just seconds for this to happen.

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Media captionEyewitness Andrew Beadle: "I thought it was a bomb" (Footage Jason/Complete Couriers and Jose Gomez)

"We ran as it fell towards us. We got away just in time.

"We were just feet away when it hit the ground and exploded."

Ex-BBC producer Paul Ferguson said the helicopter "plummeted straight into the ground".

He said the building the helicopter hit was "shrouded in mist".

While visiting the scene, London Mayor Boris Johnson said questions would be asked about how the accident happened.

He added that the crane was now secure and would be dealt with soon.

'More rigorous controls'

Image copyright PA
Image caption Part of the crane fell to the ground after the crash and lay in the road

Kate Hoey, Labour MP for Vauxhall, told the BBC the rapid increase in the number of tall buildings in London meant more rigorous controls over who can fly where may be needed.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the rules on helicopters flying over central London is something that "has to be carefully looked at".

The Civil Aviation Authority said there were 16,374 helicopter flights over London in 2012.

It added that single-engine craft were required to fly along certain routes, selected to provide safety, and while twin-engine helicopters could operate in wider areas, all were subject to air traffic control clearance.

Pilots were notified of very tall structures for flight planning purposes, as was the case with the crane involved in the crash.

The Met told the BBC there was no suggestion the incident was linked to terrorism.

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