The Helicopter and the Crane
Mr Barnes, 50, from Berkshire, died when the AgustaWestland 109 he was piloting crashed into a crane at the side of The Tower at St George Wharf at 8am on Wednesday, just yards from Vauxhall Station.
His helicopter plunged to the ground 700ft below, killing Matthew Wood, 39, from Sutton, south London as he walked to work.
Mr Barnes had been flying from Redhill in Surrey to Elstree, Hertfordshire, but he asked to be diverted to Battersea heliport because of bad weather.
A couple of points I think are worth making:
- The crane was not new to that location and the crane operator had reported the location. It has been listed in the NOTAMS for months. The crane may have been a factor but it is not at all clear that it was the cause.
- The pilot was highly experienced and regularly flew in and out of London.
- The pilot was changing frequency in a normal fashion. The fact that he was “out of contact” is not, in itself, an issue, other than that it coincides with the time of the accident.
- It is unclear why the pilot infringed the NOTAM and collided with the crane. Any one giving a reason at this stage is guessing.
- There are a lot of cranes (and high buildings) in London. There are thousands of helicopters flying over London every month. Looking at CAA data for helicopter operations within the London Heathrow and London City control zones, there are 170,000 movements listed since 2007. Over the same time period, the number of fatal incidents is one. This one.
It’s a terrible tragedy and the type of accident that really should never happen. But as of now, there are many factors that could come into play. The helicopter could have had a critical failure before flying into the crane. The pilot could have been incapacited. We just don’t know.
Hopefully, we will have answers soon. The AAIB have begun their investigation. Personally, I’m waiting on their report before declaring that Something Must Be Done.