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Vauxhall helicopter crash pilot 'felt under pressure'

image captionThe helicopter collided with the jib of a crane in Vauxhall

A helicopter pilot who crashed in London "felt under pressure" to fly on the day, an inquest has heard.

Peter Barnes died when his aircraft struck a crane attached to St George Wharf Tower on 16 January 2013.

His partner said he had concerns over freezing fog but felt under pressure to pick up his friend, who was not aboard.

But, the owner of the firm that operated the helicopter told Southwark Coroner's Court claims Mr Barnes was under pressure were "rubbish".

The jury inquest is also being held into the death of pedestrian Matthew Wood who was killed when the aircraft hit the ground.

Five people were taken to hospital and seven more were treated at the scene.


The inquest heard Mr Barnes had 24 years flying experience, including work on James Bond films.

His partner Rebecca Dixon told jurors Mr Barnes had been on his way to collect long-term friend and restaurateur Richard Caring when the crash happened just before 08:00 GMT.

He had been flying from Redhill Aerodrome in Surrey to Elstree in Hertfordshire, but diverted to Battersea heliport in south London.

image copyrightClive Seymour
image captionThe helicopter crashed on to Wandsworth Road

He had been worried about the fog, Ms Dixon said, but felt "a need to give it a go".

Senior coroner Andrew Harris asked her: "Was he a man who took risks?"

She replied: "Within limits. He knew what he could and couldn't do. I wouldn't say he took adverse risks."

She said "he was fit, well rested and in a good frame of mind".

The coroner read an extract from a toxicology report on Mr Barnes that confirmed "alcohol did not play a part in this incident".

'Normal commercial pressure'

On the day he died Mr Barnes was working on a freelance contract for RotorMotion, which is no longer trading.

Philip Amadeus, owner and chief pilot of the firm, said Mr Barnes was under "normal commercial pressure" to fly the Agusta 109 helicopter on the day of the crash.

Asked by the coroner if pressure had been put on Mr Barnes, he replied: "I would say that was rubbish. As a pilot myself I know of the difficulties of flying and I would not pressurise somebody into flying in dangerous conditions.

"He was under no more pressure than I would consider normal commercial pressure."

Mr Amadeus described the pilot as "someone you couldn't push around" and told the jury he did not contact Mr Barnes on the day of the crash.

He said the fact Mr Caring was a regular customer did not place the company under "any pressure" to ensure the flight operated.

The inquest also heard evidence from RotorMotion operations assistant Declan Lehane, who had drunk tea with Mr Barnes on the morning of the flight.

'Weather discussed'

He said Mr Barnes had told him: "The weather might not allow landing at Elstree but I'll go and have a look to see if there's a hole in the cloud."

Asked about his own feelings, Mr Lehane said: "The weather was discussed but nothing that put my mind at doubt."

He explained that it was Mr Barnes's responsibility to check weather conditions before flying and recalled he was looking at forecasts.

He said helicopter pilots communicated with the firm by text message and a number of these were sent during the flight.

One read: "Can't get in at Elstree HDGB [heading back] assuming it's still clear (at Redhill)."

Pilots would normally make contact if there was a change of plan so it was a surprise to learn Mr Barnes was heading to Battersea, Mr Lehane said.

The inquest continues.

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