A helicopter pilot who died in a crash in central London once flew air ambulances over North Yorkshire.
The accident in the Vauxhall area claimed the life of pilot Pete Barnes and one other person, while several others were injured.
Mr Barnes had piloted helicopters in action scenes in movies such as Die Another Day, Tomb Raider II and Saving Private Ryan, and had also worked for the Yorkshire Ambulance and the Great North Air Ambulance.
He was featured in The Press in 2006 because of his work on Bond movies.
His helicopter spun out of control and crashed near Vauxhall Station after Captain Barnes attempted to divert the aircraft to a helipad due to bad weather.
The AgustaWestland 109 Power clipped a crane on top of one of Europe’s tallest residential towers, falling from the sky before exploding into flames and crashing into the streets below.
Captain Philip Amadeus, managing director of RotorMotion, an executive helicopter charter business, said the aircraft was on a commercial flight from Redhill, in Surrey, 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.”
Commander Neil Basu, of the Metropolitan Police, said: “It was something of a miracle that this was not many, many times worse.”
It is understood the eight-seater aircraft was owned by Cornwall-based Castle Air but was leased to RotorMotion, which is based at Redhill Aerodrome.
Staff at the aerodrome confirmed it left the site at 7.35am amid low cloud cover and poor visibility, while the owner of London Heliport said he 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 aircraft crashed into the crane on top of The Tower in the St George Wharf development on the River Thames.
Witnesses described hearing a loud explosion as debris scattered across the sky and the helicopter plummeted to the ground, crashing near Wandsworth Road.
London Fire Brigade station manager Bruce Grain, one of first firefighters at the scene, said it “was absolute chaos” but said the fire was put out within 20 minutes. Six fire engines, four fire rescue units, a number of other specialist vehicles and 88 firefighters attended the scene of the crash.
London Ambulance Service confirmed 12 people were injured. Pauline Cranmer, operations manager at London Ambulance Service, said: “The second fatality was not in the building. It was in close proximity to the helicopter. There were a number of injuries that would potentially be consistent with being hit by debris.”
Mayor of London Boris Johnson said last night lighting of cranes and tall buildings would be reviewed, but it would be “premature” to second guess the investigation into the crash.
‘As good a guy as you can imagine’
TRIBUTES were paid yesterday to pilot Pete Barnes.
The Yorkshire Air Ambulance (YAA) confirmed he was one of its pilots several years ago, saying: “(We) were saddened to hear of the tragic loss of Captain Peter Barnes.
“Captain Barnes had previously flown with the YAA as one of our pilots a few years ago 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.”
In 2004, Captain Barnes helped rescue a motorist from a flooded ford in County Durham while working for the Great North Air Ambulance. Its director of operations, Kevin 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.”
Mr Barnes worked as a ski instructor and a guide and also in advertising before training as a helicopter pilot.