FRIENDS and former colleagues of the pilot killed in today’s tragic helicopter crash have paid tribute to a man held in high regard by everyone he met.

Captain Pete Barnes died when the aircraft he was piloting crashed in central London after hitting a crane, in apparently poor weather conditions.

A vastly experienced pilot, the 50-year-old worked for charter flight company RotorMotion, which offers “boutique services for VIPs” and counts former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Simon Cowell among its clients.

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Capt Barnes was the only person on board the eight-seater Agusta 109 helicopter when it crashed, killing him and another person on the ground.

As well as working as a stunt pilot in a string of Hollywood films, adverts and TV productions during his career, Capt Barnes spent several years in the region, working for both the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) and the Yorkshire Air Ambulance (YAA).

In 2004, he and GNAAS paramedic Kevin Hodgson performed a daring rescue at Stanhope Ford, in County Durham rescuing a driver trapped in his car in flood water.

Both men received a commendation from the charity’s chief executive for their part in the incident.

Mr Hodgson, 53, now director of operations for GNAAS, watched the story unfold on rolling news channels throughout the day.

He said he was “shell-shocked” when the pilot’s name was made public and he realised it was his friend who had been killed.

Paying tribute to Capt Barnes, Mr Hodgson said: “Pete was a very likable character and very well-known in the helicopter and ambulance world.

“He was as good a guy as you can imagine, a very dear friend 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.

“He was held in high regard by everybody – I never heard anyone have a bad word to say about him.

“Everyone at the charity is deeply saddened at this news. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the tragedy.”

Capt Barnes spent three years during the 1990s working for Metro Radio in Newcastle, providing traffic and travel updates from an airborne vantage point. Listeners warmed to his authoritative on-air persona, The Commander.

A YAA spokeswoman said: “We were saddened to hear of the tragic loss of Captain Barnes.

“He had previously flown with us as one of our pilots and was very well respected among our crew and staff.

“Our thoughts and sincere sympathies are with the families of all those involved in this tragic incident.”

Speaking to The Northern Echo, Mr Hodgson recalled the last time he saw Capt Barnes, when the pilot had flown in to see old friends from GNAAS at the charity’s base at Durham Tees Valley Airport.

He said: “I last saw Pete probably about four or five months ago, when he called in to the airport with his helicopter, I think he was doing some work in the area.

“He called in for a cup of tea and a catch-up. It was about four years ago that he stopped working with us, when we changed our way of operating and bought our aircraft rather than leasing them.”

On its website, RotorMotion describes Capt Barnes, a former ski instructor, as one of the country’s most experienced Agusta pilots.

It said clients would often ask for him specifically, for both his piloting skills, as well as his relaxed and charming manner.