Monday, November 23, 2015

Agusta A109E Power, RotorMotion - Castle Air, G-CRST: Fatal accident occurred January 16, 2013 in Vauxhall, London, United Kingdom

Captain Peter Barnes

Pilot 'lost situational awareness' before fatal helicopter crash

A helicopter pilot did not deliberately breach air clearance rules but had lost situational awareness when he clipped a crane and caused a fatal crash, an inquest has heard.

Pete Barnes, 50, died when his helicopter hit a crane at The Tower in St George Wharf, Vauxhall, south London, and plunged into Wandsworth Road on the morning of January 16 2013.

Pedestrian Matthew Wood, 39, from Sutton, Surrey, was also killed as he walked to work. Twelve other people on the ground were injured.

Mr. Barnes, who was contending with poor visibility and freezing fog, had been flying from Redhill Aerodrome in Surrey to Elstree in Hertfordshire but was diverted to Battersea heliport.

Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) inspector Geraint Herbert told Southwark Coroner's Court it was difficult for pilots to map all such obstacles around London as identified in Notices to Airmen (NOTAMS).

NOTAMS gives only a general radius within which a potential hazard is located rather than an exact GPS co-ordinate, Mr Herbert said. The crane was within a one-mile radius of the area identified.

Mr. Herbert said: "You don't know exactly where these obstacles are ... you have to plot the circle, and then all the other circles (on the map)."

The court heard the fluctuating workload of pilots included the requirement to maintain 500ft clearance from any obstacles. Some obstacles were mapped while others required visual identification.

But Mr. Herbert said "not hitting obstacles" is fundamental to flying.

Air traffic controllers directed Mr Barnes to a holding zone between Vauxhall and Westminster bridges while they sought permission from Battersea to divert him.

Mr. Herbert told the court Mr Barnes did not take the most direct route to fulfil those directions: "What he did was something different, but it is consistent with going to the bridge."

Mr. Herbert added the final movements of the aircraft might have been because he was avoiding patches of bad weather, but they also meant Mr Barnes had entered a restricted area.

Moments before the crash, Mr Barnes attempted to switch his radio from the Thames controller frequency to the Battersea frequency. Mr Herbert was pressed on whether that task distracted Mr Barnes from his flight, possibly causing the accident.

He replied: "We can't say that, because he might have just acknowledged that he was going to make the frequency change, then done the turn, then changed the frequency."

Mr. Herbert added: "We have no way of telling."

The court heard cloud cover was around 700ft that morning, the same altitude as the top of the crane.

Mr. Herbert said: "We did conclude that he probably was not aware of his proximity to the building at the time he turned."

Mr. Barnes's failure to observe the 500ft rule was not deliberate but "a consequence of this loss of situational awareness", the AAIB investigation concluded.

Mr. Herbert said air traffic controllers would not have been aware of the position of the crane, and it was the pilot's responsibility to avoid obstacles and inform controllers if he or she was unable to fulfil the required clearances.

He said: "Air traffic control does not absolve him from obeying the rules of the air."


AAIB Bulletin S1/2013 Special:

Aircraft Accident Report 3/2014 - Agusta A109E, G-CRST, 16 January 2013:


At 0820 hrs on 16 January 2013 the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) was notified that a helicopter flying over central London had collided with a crane and crashed into the street near Vauxhall Bridge. A team of AAIB inspectors and support staff arrived on the scene at 1130 hrs.

The helicopter was flying to the east of London Heliport when it struck the jib of a crane, attached to a building development at St George Wharf, at a height of approximately 700 ft amsl in conditions of reduced meteorological visibility. The pilot, who was the sole occupant of the helicopter, and a pedestrian were fatally injured when the helicopter impacted a building and adjacent roadway.

The investigation identified the following causal factors:

The pilot turned onto a collision course with the crane attached to the building and was probably unaware of the helicopter’s proximity to the building at the beginning of the turn.

The pilot did not see the crane or saw it too late to take effective avoiding action.

The investigation identified the following contributory factor:

The pilot continued with his intention to land at the London Heliport despite being unable to remain clear of cloud.

'Extreme pressure': A colleague said Captain Peter Barnes felt he had to fly despite the poor conditions. 

Restaurant tycoon Richard Caring, pictured outside Soutwark Coroner's Court yesterday, had been due to fly for a day's shooting with the Queen's cousin.

Wreckage: A pedestrian was killed and 12 others injured when the helicopter, pictured, plunged to the ground.

A restaurant tycoon told an inquest he tried to persuade a helicopter pilot not to fly just hours before he died in a crash that killed two people.

Richard Caring, owner of the exclusive Ivy restaurant franchise, had been due to fly from Elstree, Hertfordshire, to the Mulgrave Estate near Whitby, North Yorkshire, to shoot with the Marquess of Milford Haven, a cousin of the Queen.

Southwark Coroner's Court heard earlier that pilot Peter Barnes, 50, had felt under 'extreme pressure' to go ahead with the flight despite concerns over freezing fog and cloud on his route.  

But Mr. Caring, 67, said he twice told Mr Barnes not to collect him because his planned landing site was covered in fog and low cloud.

Mr Barnes, a father-of-two from Berkshire, decided to fly but later diverted to Battersea heliport, near Vauxhall, London, because of bad weather and died when his helicopter struck a 770ft crane.

Pedestrian Matthew Wood, 39, from Sutton, Surrey was killed and 12 others were injured when the helicopter plunged to the ground.

Yesterday, Mr Caring told the court he had done everything other than steal Mr Barnes' keys to persuade him not to fly, saying: 'I didn't pull his strings.' 

In the face of repeated questioning over the issue, Mr Caring said he felt he was being 'put on trial' and that he had not placed 'one iota' of pressure on the pilot.

Mr Caring told the court he had flown with Mr Barnes more than 100 times over 10 years and considered him a 'wonderful, charismatic, friendly, jovial, professional pilot', and would invite him to join in during shoots and for dinner afterwards with his friends. 

On the morning of January 16 2013, Mr Barnes contacted his customer to say there was low-lying cloud and freezing fog on his route from Redhill, Surrey and Mr Caring, said there was cloud cover and told him not to take off.

Mr. Caring said: 'I told him twice, "Don't take off, wait 'til I get there". He said: "I am coming anyway, I will land in a field if I have to".

'I don't see how much more you can do than to say to the pilot, "don't take off'.'

Mr Caring said they had cancelled or diverted flights many times before, and there was no pressure to fly as it was 'just a day's shooting', but Mr Barnes decided to leave anyway.

Mr Caring said: 'He decides what he is going to do, he ignores any other advice and does what he wants to do.

'He is a professional pilot with thousands of hours of flying. It is his decision, not anybody else's.'

When he reached Elstree, Mr Barnes was unable to land. While the pilot was on his way back to Surrey, Mr Caring contacted him to say Battersea heliport was open.

But he denied the suggestion that he was trying to pressure Mr Barnes to divert there to pick him up later, saying he was merely trying to give him an option of somewhere safe to land.

He said: 'I didn't say, "Battersea is open, please land there", I just said, "Battersea is open". I didn't tell him to land there.

'It is left to his own professionalism, intelligence and experience to decide whether to use it and go there.'

Earlier, the inquest heard from Shaun Tinkler-Rose, a pilot colleague at the East Midlands air ambulance. 

He said Mr Barnes told him on the morning he died that he felt under 'extreme pressure' from both his employer, RotorMotion, and the client, to do that day's job.

He told the jury he thought Mr Barnes may have flown to 'prove a point' and 'give it a go', adding: 'The overall gist I got from the conversation was that he didn't really want to fly.'

Susan Smith, then RotorMotion's operations manager, said Mr Barnes was his 'own man' who was unlikely to have felt any pressure.

She said: 'If a pilot feels that it is not safe to fly then the passenger has to respect that decision.' 

Mr. Caring also rubbished Mr Tinkler-Rose's evidence, saying he had 'exaggerated' Mr Barnes' comments and taken them out of context, and that the inquest was 'trying to find something here that isn't there'.

He said: 'What went wrong on that tragic day I don't know. 'Maybe part of the fault was that we became too friendly and he felt he might have been letting me down. But I could not go to Redhill and steal his keys.'

Mr. Caring added: 'I feel that I am on trial here... Any decision was his, at the end of the day.

'Was he pressurized by RotorMotion? No. Was he actually pressurized that day? Not one iota. You can't say more to a pilot that you also consider a friend than, 'Do not take off'.'

The inquest continues tomorrow. 

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A stills grab from television footage taken by a member of the public shows flames on a road following the crash of the helicopter in central London  

The damaged crane following the helicopter crash in Vauxhall  

Restaurant baron Richard Caring said today that he didn't put "one iota" of pressure on a doomed helicopter pilot to fly in torrid weather conditions.

The owner of The Ivy and several other leading London eateries, who was No 112 on The Sunday Times Rich List in 2012, told an inquest into the pilot's death that he felt like he himself was "on trial."

Captain Peter Barnes, 50, died after his helicopter clipped the crane on top of a skyscraper in fog before crashing to the ground, killing him and a man on his way to work and injuring 12 others.

His widow, testifying three years after the event, said yesterday that her husband was a "very experienced" pilot and was not looking forward to the flight because of the poor weather forecast.

On January 16 2013, he had taken off from Redhill Aerodrome, in Surrey, and was on his way to collect Richard Caring, The Ivy restaurateur, in Hertfordshire and take him to a shooting party in North Yorkshire.

But the bad weather forced him to divert to Battersea heliport because of foggy and freezing weather conditions and he crashed as he made his approach.

Captain Barnes and pedestrian Matthew Wood, 39, both died when the chopper clipped the crane on top of St George's Tower in Vauxhall.

Captain Barnes was working as a freelancer for executive helicopter company RotorMotion, and was due to take regular flyer Mr Caring to Mulgrave Castle in Yorkshire for a shoot.

At an inquest into Captain Barnes' and Mr Wood's deaths today, Southwark Coroner's Court heard Mr Caring never put any pressure on his pilot during the 100 flights they did together over a 10-year period.

Jurors heard flight cancellations were a "normal" thing due to bad weather conditions.

Today, Mr Caring told jurors it was Captain Barnes' decision to divert to Battersea heliport, rather than his own request, and accused the court of making him "feel on trial."

Mr Caring, 67, said: "I flew with him over 100 times and we never had a problem."

He said that he had flown with RotorMotion for 10 years, and 90 per cent of the time had been flown by two of the same pilots - including Captain Barnes.

Mr Caring also criticized previous evidence from an air ambulance colleague of Captain Barnes, Shaun Tinkler-Rose, who suggested Captain Barnes was placed under "pressure" by his client to fly.

Mr Caring described Mr Tinkler-Rose's evidence as "extreme" and added: "I believe Mr Tinkler-Rose is slightly confused in his understanding of the use of commercial helicopters."

He described Mr Tinkler-Rose as a "frustrated pilot," and disputed the notion commercial helicopter clients are "control freaks or people who can't take no for an answer."

Jurors heard Captain Barnes "certainly didn't portray" that he was uneasy about flying whilst on the phone with Mr Caring prior to take off at 7.30am.

Mr Caring continued: "I found the pilots at RotorMotion very amiable, polite and professional. They put safety first.

"They sat in the front and we were in the back, and they were very much in control."

"I don't believe anybody in their right mind would want to pressurize a pilot as nobody wants to be involved in an accident."

Mr Caring denied a disagreement with another pilot put commercial pressure on his contract with RotorMotion, but admitted Captain Barnes became one of his favored pilots.

He continued: "Peter was a wonderful, charismatic, friendly, jovial and professional pilot.

"We became friendly to the point he was always invited if he was down to stay and come and join my guests for dinner and the shoots.

"Outside of the pilot-client relationship, we didn't call each other or see each other. But I like to think we were friends."

Mr Caring said he never booked flights personally through Captain Barnes, and "99%" went through official channels.

The court was told Mr Caring put "absolutely no" pressure on Captain Barnes to take off from Redhill on 16 January.

He said the pair spoke before take off, where Mr Caring asked him twice not to take off, as he was nearer to Elstree and therefore able to determine whether the weather conditions were improving.

"It was a day's shoot in Yorkshire. We had no particular time to arrive, and if a helicopter can't take off it can't take off. It was not a problem," said Mr Caring.

"He had no reason to take off. I was very near to Elstree and I said I would check to see how bad the cloud was.

"I told him not to take off while I headed there.

"I don't know how much more you can say than 'don't take off, I'm going to have a look myself.'

"I would like to ask the court how can you make sense of taking off when I said to him to stay put. You can do no more than to suggest to a pilot not to take off."

Asked why he believed the helicopter took off, Mr Caring said: "Because that's how Pete was."

Asked why he later informed Captain Barnes that Battersea heliport was open, rather than let him return to Redhill, Mr Caring said: "I thought it was relevant and that he should know Battersea was open.

"I didn't say 'Battersea is open, please land there.' The decision was left for a professional pilot to decide what to do. It was left to his own intelligence and experience.

"Pete was very keen that he made some sort of effort while he was flying around Elstree.

"I pointed out to him that Battersea was open. It was for him to consider all options and decide what he wanted to do.

"It was his decision to take off in the first place. There was no reason for him to go to Battersea rather than Redhill. It was his decision.

"We didn't prompt him. We didn't suggest to him. We just him informed him."

Mr Caring added that Captain Barnes was "too intelligent" to succumb to any pressure put on him.

"What more could I have done other than driven to Redhill and stolen his keys?" asked Mr Caring.

"Maybe part of the fault is that we became too friendly and he thought he would be letting me down.

"I would like to point out that I feel on trial here. It is for the court to examine the evidence.

"When it comes to professional flying, this is one of the most prestigious pilots in the country. It was his decision at the end of the day.

"He flew me over 100 times. If we spent that amount of time together, it's likely we built up a camaraderie.

"Was he under pressure from RotorMotion? No. Was he under pressure the other 100 times he flew me? No.

"Was he actually pressured that day? Not one iota."

The inquest continues.

Captain Pete Barnes

A former Great North Air Ambulance pilot killed in a helicopter crash in central London “wasn’t looking forward” to the flight because of the weather conditions, his partner has said.

Pete Barnes, 50, died from multiple injuries after the helicopter he was flying hit a crane on The Tower at St George Wharf, Vauxhall, and plunged into Wandsworth Road on the morning of January 16 2013.

Pedestrian Matthew Wood, 39, from Sutton, Surrey, was also killed as he walked to work. Twelve other people on the ground were injured in the crash.

Mr. Barnes’s long-term partner, Rebecca Dixon, told the inquest into the deaths of the two men that he had expressed concern about the forecast of freezing fog.

She said: “I was a little bit worried because he did seem a bit more... quite often he would get up and go and be happy, but he talked the day or so before the flight that he wasn’t particularly looking forward to it and he didn’t know if he would complete it because the forecast wasn’t very good.”

Ms. Dixon added: “Freezing fog isn’t a good outlook when you’re flying.”

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.”

Mr. Barnes, from Berkshire, spent several years living in Newcastle during which time he worked at as Metro Radio’s first ever “eye in the sky” traffic and travel presenter. He also took part in hundreds of life-saving missions as an Great North Air Ambulance Service pilot, which he undertook for eight years.

He had been flying for helicopter firm RotorMotion from Redhill Aerodrome, Surrey, to collect restaurateur Richard Caring in Elstree, Hertfordshire, on the day of the crash but was diverted to London’s Battersea heliport.

Ms. Dixon told the jury of eight women and three men at Southwark Coroner’s Court that her partner had a “good relationship” with Mr Caring because he included the pilot in leisure activities following flights.

“He was always polite, he was pleasant,” she said. “It was fun because quite often once the flight was over he would shoot with them and have dinner with them.

“It wasn’t as if he was on his own in a hotel room. He was included.”

Ms Dixon told the hearing that Mr Dixon had been a pilot for 24 years, and had worked in a freelance capacity since 1997.

His inquest continues on Wednesday.


The scene after a helicopter crashed into a construction crane on top of St George's Wharf tower building, in Vauxhall, South London

Captain Pete Barnes.

A juror appeared close to tears as an inquest resumed into the deaths of two men in a helicopter crash in central London.

Former Yorkshire Air Ambulance captain Pete Barnes, 50, died from multiple injuries after the helicopter he was flying hit a crane on The Tower at St George Wharf, Vauxhall, and plunged into Wandsworth Road on the morning of January 16, 2013.

Pedestrian Matthew Wood, 39, from Sutton, Surrey, was also killed as he walked to work. Twelve other people on the ground were injured in the crash.

A jury of eight women and three men was sworn in at Southwark Coroner’s Court in London at the start of the three-week inquest.

One female juror appeared emotional as she read out the oath when her voice began quivering.

Coroner Dr Andrew Harris warned the jury not to do their own research into the case or discuss details of the inquest with their families or online.

He said: “If it does happen it might bring this inquest grinding to a halt.

“You’re not here to decide if someone is innocent or guilty.Your duty is to establish facts that are relevant. You’re going to have to determine what’s reliable and what’s not.”

The inquest will hear evidence from Mr Barnes’ long term partner Rebecca Dixon, Mr Wood’s brother Darren and businessman Richard Caring, who Mr Barnes was due to collect in the helicopter.

Lord Milford-Haven is also due to give evidence about his communications with the pilot.

Mr Barnes, who had 25 years’ flying experience, had previously flown as an air ambulance pilot and in several films during his career including Oscar-winning Saving Private Ryan and the James Bond film Die Another Day.

The inquest opened on January 22, 2013 and heard that Mr Barnes had been diverted because of bad weather before the crash.

The father-of-two from Berkshire had been flying from Redhill Aerodrome in Surrey to Elstree in Hertfordshire but was diverted to Battersea heliport, Southwark Coroner’s Court was told.

An accident report last year revealed Mr Barnes’s client, who he was due to pick up at Elstree aerodrome, had warned him by text about the weather.

When Mr Barnes was unable to land at Elstree he had continued with his intention to land at Battersea “despite being unable to remain clear of cloud”, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said.

The report also revealed that concerns about the safety of flying near St George Wharf were raised four years before the twin-engine AgustaWestland 109 helicopter crashed.

The question of the effect of the then-proposed development on helicopter flights was put to the Civil Aviation Authority in 2009 by the operator of Battersea Heliport in south London, the AAIB said.

The jury was sent home for the day and told to return to court on Tuesday morning.

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