THE pilot of the helicopter which crashed in central London is a former Great North Air Ambulance pilot who had thousands of hours of flying experience including for films such as Die Another Day and Saving Private Ryan.

Pete Barnes, who died when the helicopter he was flying hit a crane on a high building and crashed onto a street in Vauxhall, had amassed around 9,000 hours of flying time, including 3,500 hours on the type of craft he was piloting today.

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 including the James Bond film Die Another Day, Saving Private Ryan and Tomb Raider II.

Loading article content

He also flew the Newcastle Traffic & Travel helicopter as the Voice of Metro FM and worked as a helicopter instructor.

In 2004 he helped rescue a motorist from flooded Stanhope Ford in County Durham, while working for the Great North Air Ambulance.

Kevin Hodgson, Director of Operations at the Great North Air Ambulance Service, worked alongside Captain Barnes for several years, flying on life-saving missions across the North. Capt Barnes stopped working with the charity about four years ago.

Mr Hodgson 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. Over the years he will have flown on dozens of missions, no doubt saving lives along the way. Everyone at the charity is deeply saddened at this news. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the tragedy.”

Mr Barnes originally worked as a ski instructor and guide in Europe after completing his business studies degree, before going into advertising.

But he later moved to the US to train as a helicopter pilot, earning a US Commercial and Instructors Licence flying helicopters around Florida and the East Coast.

He moved back to the UK and at the time of his death was working as a freelance pilot for RotorMotion, a company which counts among its clients the Prince of Wales, Prime Minister David Cameron, former PM Tony Blair and the Dalai Lama.

On its website RotorMotion describes Mr Barnes, who had worked for them since 1997, as one of the countrys most experienced Agusta pilots and instructor, with clients often requesting him for both his piloting skills and his relaxed, charming manner.