Experts claim radio and fog to blame for London helicopter crash


The pilot of the helicopter which crashed in central London on Wednesday morning may have been trying to change channel on his communications radio when the aircraft collided with a crane at rush hour.

Aviation experts said the location of the collision, which took place in low cloud close to Vauxhall Bridge, was the point at which pilots approaching to land at the London Battersea Heliport were asked to switch frequencies to contact air traffic controllers.

Pete Barnes, a veteran pilot with more than 20 years’ flying experience, had requested at short notice to divert from his intended route between Surrey and Hertfordshire so he could land at the heliport some two and a half miles from the crash site, close to a railway bridge.

Investigators from the Air Accident Investigation Branch are trying to establish what caused the eight-seater AgustaWestland 109 to clip the crane attached to the side of the St George Wharf tower, despite rules requiring aircraft to stay at least away 500ft from all structures.

Mr Barnes was flying in foggy conditions after taking off at 7.35am from the aerodrome at Redhill in Surrey, and requested via air traffic controllers at Heathrow to change route to reach the heliport, which operates its own air traffic control zone over a specified radio frequency.

A spokesman for the London Battersea Heliport, which yesterday re-opened after the crash, said it had received a request from Heathrow’s controllers to accept the helicopter but never made contact with the aircraft.

David Learmount, operations editor of aviation website Flightglobal, said a small change in weather conditions, which are believed to have worsened around the time of the crash, could have been enough to “trap” the pilot as he tried to navigate a route to make a safe landing.

He said: “Weather will turn out to be the key issue. When you fly in marginal conditions it only needs a little dip in what you were expecting and you’re pretty much trapped. He probably did not see the crane until it was too late. Sometimes even bright lights are difficult to see in foggy conditions.”

The partner of Mr Barnes, 50, said the pilot would have instinctively tried to do everything possible to minimise casualties as his helicopter plunged to the ground. The second fatality in the accident, 39-year-old Matthew Wood, was struck by debris as he walked to work. Scotland Yard said it was a “miracle” that the outcome of the crash was not far worse.

Rebecca Dixon, who survives Mr Barnes along with their two children, Freddie, eight, and 12-year-old Alexandra, told the Evening Standard: “Obviously he would have been frantic and the lives of others would have been at the forefront of his mind. It sums up the man. I find it very comforting and so do the children.”

The family of Mr Wood, a manager for pest control firm Rentokil, said he had been killed because he was determined to turn up early for work. His brother Darren, 35, said Matthew had not been due to start work until later but always arrived early at the office.

He said he texted Matthew shortly before 8am reassuring him about the wellbeing of his 11-month-old nephew, who was in hospital, and Matthew replied saying: “Good news.”

Mr Wood said: “He was a very family-oriented guy and he doted on his nephew. You will never find a bad word said about him.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
The spider makes its break for freedom
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Customer Support Technician

£15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Waterlooville based softwa...

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

Recruitment Genius: Associate Sales Consultant

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Associate Sales Consultant i...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot