ALTHOUGH two people were killed in today’s helicopter crash, police say it was a miracle the tally of dead and injured was not higher.
Pete Barnes, who has piloted helicopters for movies such as Die Another Day, was alone in the aircraft in thick cloud when it clipped a crane on top of one of Europe’s largest skyscrapers.
The AgustaWestland 109 Power hurtled to the ground and exploded into flames only yards from Vauxhall station, in the centre of London, claiming the lives of Captain Barnes and another man, 39-year-old Matthew Wood, from Sutton, south London, on the ground. A total of 12 people were also injured, including one with a broken leg.
Commander Neil Basu, of the Metropolitan Police, said: “It was something of a miracle that this was not many, many times worse.”
Among those who escaped was the driver of the crane who was late for his shift and had not reached his cabin.
Witnesses described hearing a loud bang and seeing a flash of light as debris scattered across the sky and the twin-engine aircraft crashed near Wandsworth Road.
Video footage and photos flooded social media sites revealing chaotic scenes, burning wreckage and vehicles charred by flames.
Witness Sharon Moore said she saw the aircraft slice through the crane “as if it was a piece of paper”.
She said: “The helicopter did not seem to know which way to turn and then it just dropped, it sliced, screeching into the metal.”
Staff at Redhill Aerodrome, in Surrey, confirmed the helicopter left the site at 7.35am, while the owner of London Heliport said Mr Barnes requested to land at one of its sites via Heathrow air traffic control.
But the Heliport never established contact with the pilot and, shortly before 8am, the emergency services started receiving hundreds of calls reporting the crash.
London Fire Brigade station manager Bruce Grain said it “was absolute chaos”
as residents were evacuated, but revealed the fire was put out within 20 minutes.
The eight-seater aircraft was owned by Cornwall-based Castle Air, but was leased to Rotormotion, which is based at Redhill Aerodrome.
Captain Philip Amadeus, managing director of Rotormotion, an executive helicopter charter business, said the aircraft was on a commercial flight 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.”
Capt Barnes’ home is in the small rural village of Goddard’s Green, near Mortimer, Berkshire.
Neighbour David Sinclair, 66, said: “We saw the helicopter come and go every now and again, as he had a helipad in the garden and parked it there. The accident is very sad. It’s unbelievable, really.”
The police force and fire brigade are investigating the crash along with the Air Accidents Investigation Branch and the Civil Aviation Authority.
London Mayor Boris Johnson said lighting on cranes and tall buildings will be reviewed, but that it would be premature to second guess the investigation into the accident.
Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the emergency services. He said: “The whole House will wish to join with me in sending their thanks to the emergency services for their rapid and professional response to this.”