Shuttling film stars and politicians across London, Pete Barnes was one of Britain’s most experienced helicopter aviators
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Wednesday 16 January 2013
From capturing airborne footage of the 2012 Olympics to shuttling film stars and politicians across London, traversing the capital’s skies had become second nature to Pete Barnes.
Precisely what caused his AgustaWestland 109 to fall burning onto its streets today remains unclear but the 50-year-old pilot was one of Britain’s most experienced helicopter aviators, respected by his peers for both his competence and bravery.
The father-of-two had clocked up more than 12,500 hours of flying time since qualifying as a commercial pilot in 1989, including 3,000 hours in the type of aircraft in which he died.
Lately, much of that flying had been done for RotorMotion, a Surrey-based helicopter operator that describes itself as “Britain’s favourite boutique helicopter charter business”.
Indeed, the company boasts an impressive client list, including the Dalai Llama, Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince Charles and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton, pictured above with Mr Barnes.
Underlining its reputation for safety and luxury, which includes a complimentary champagne bar on each of its aircraft, RotorMotion states on its website: “Our helicopters have twin turbine engines and are certified to fly at night, over water and in cloud. Relax in the knowledge that both pilot and machine are fully instrument qualified to fly in poor weather conditions.”
Such was the reputation of Mr Barnes, from Goddards Green, Berkshire, as a safe pair of hands, he was also employed by AgustaWestland to deliver more than 50 of their aircraft.
His colleagues today described him as the archetype of the dashing pilot, mixing jobs as a pilot for multiple Hollywood flims – including the James Bond movie Die Another Day, Saving Private Ryan and Tomb Raider II – with service as an air ambulance pilot across England.
Kevin Hodgson, a paramedic who flew with him on Great North Air Ambulance, said: “Pete was as good a guy as you can imagine and one of the best pilots I’ve had the pleasure of flying with. Over the years he will have flown on dozens of missions, no doubt saving lives along the way.”
In 2004, Mr Barnes hit the headlines for a dramatic airborne rescue in County Durham when he hovered his helicopter less than a foot above a car which had been swept into flood waters, allowing the motorist to climb aboard before his vehicle was dragged away.
The pilot, who qualified in America after initially working as a ski instructor, was also one of the first to bring helicopter-based “eye-in-the-sky” traffic reports to Britain, working for a Newcastle radio station.
Alan Robson, his presenter on board the helicopter, said Mr Barnes was not afraid of making his flying look dramatic while keeping safe. “In a weird kind of way, the kind of person he was, maybe he was never going to go quietly,” he said.
Tonight, a representative at the home of Mr Barnes asked for his family to be allowed to grieve in privacy.
Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
LAPD releases haunting crime scene photos from its archives
Peaches Geldof funeral: Bob Geldof leads tributes at emotional service in same church she married husband Thomas Cohen and mother Paula Yates was buried
Duke and Duchess of Cambridge photographed with Prince George off-duty may spark privacy row
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: Concerns grow among search officials that missing jet ‘may have landed somewhere else’
Ukip election posters: Nigel Farage defends 'racist' campaign anti-immigration campaign ahead of Europe elections
Is Britain really a land of God? Furious debate after David Cameron claims we are a Christian country
An open letter to Nigel Farage: you may smile, but I am not seduced
'Sinful': Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy comes under attack
David Cameron's constituency office calls police on food bank campaigners Bishop of Oxford and Reverend Keith Hebden
Ukip leader Nigel Farage defends employing German wife, at launch of anti-immigration poster campaign
- 1 Revealed: Scientists ‘edit’ DNA to correct adult genes and cure diseases
- 2 David Cameron's constituency office calls police on food bank campaigners Bishop of Oxford and Reverend Keith Hebden
- 3 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 4 Women take on Bear Grylls over 'sexist' male-only desert island show
- 5 Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: Concerns grow among search officials that missing jet ‘may have landed somewhere else’
£55000 - £62000 per annum + outstanding benefits and bonus: Pro-Recruitment Gr...
£120 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Reception teacher required for an Outs...
£35000 - £45000 per annum + excellent company benefits : Pro-Recruitment Group...
£90 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job We are currently recr...