Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Helicopter crash prompts safety review

A helicopter crash in central London has prompted some to ask questions as to whether safety rules need to be tightened.

Two killed

Two people were killed and at least 12 others injured when a helicopter crashed into a crane near Vauxhall bridge and less than 300 metres from the MI5 spy headquarters. The crash happened at around 8 am in the height of the rush hour causing chaos on London's streets.

The accident occurred in heavy fog and witnesses described seeing a massive fireball after the AgustaWestland AW109 helicopter travelling from the Redhill Aerodrome hit a crane on the side of the St George Wharf development in 9 Elms Road, Vauxhall, London.


"It didn't hit the tower block itself, it hit the crane and then just came down in a fireball," witness Steve Carslake told BBC Five Live. "We ran round the corner. There was a great big lot of black smoke everywhere and there was a couple of cars."

"We heard someone was actually trapped in the car. We went to run towards the car and there was just a large explosion again." One video clip aired on Sky News showed a car in flames while a voice could be heard encouraging the occupant to vacate quickly.


Another witness Drew Lovell described the scene as "absolute carnage". "There was a guy walking towards me, he'd just made it through bridge and he was smouldering. He must have been thrown off the motorcycle. He was worried about his motorcycle as it was leaking oil on the floor," he said. "I tried to help him, his back was on fire, the back of his coat was melted."

A nearby shop worker had run to help the injured said the scene was like a battlefield. "It felt like a war movie, it was surreal," said Mark Osbourne, who works at Metropolis Motorcycles, a shop close to the scene of the crash [BBC].

Pilot named

The helicopter [registration G-CRST] was owned by Castle Air of Cornwall and leased to RotorMotion based in Redhill, Surrey. Their website later confirmed that one of their pilots Peter Barnes had been killed in the incident.

Captain Peter Barnes, aged 50 from the Reading area, had been flying with RotorMotion since it was established over 15 years ago. The company described him as "a very highly skilled pilot" with over 12,000 flying hours experience. "We are devastated by the loss of a highly valued colleague and very dear friend. Our thoughts and condolences are with Peter's wife and children," a statement posted by Captain Philip Amadeus, Chief Pilot and MD of RotorMotion, said.

During his career Barnes had flown with the Great North Air Ambulance service and worked on films including the wartime epic Saving Private Ryan and the James Bond film Die Another Day.

Safety questions

The helicopter had apparently deviated from its original flight plan from Redhill to Elstree due to the inclement weather and was heading to Battersea helipad when it struck the crane.

While flight restrictions are tight over London, some have called for even tighter regulations. In 1991, Kate Hoey, the Labour Member of Parliament for the Vauxhall constituency tabled a Ten Minute Rule Bill to tighten the rules on helicopter and heliport legislation, although the Bill was not successful in becoming law. After the incident she told BBC News there should be an "inquiry into the increasing numbers of helicopters flying around London". Despite the concerns such incidents are rare. The Civil Aviation Authority later said it was the first fatal helicopter accident in central London since their records began in 1976 [BBC].

News coverage

News of the crash was widely discussed on social media as well as the two main news networks in Britain, Sky News  and the BBC news channel. Eyewitnesses as well as the emergency services used Twitter to post pictures and updates concerning the accident.

Some of the most dramatic pictures came from people living and working close to the scene of the crash which showed streets in flames and wrecked vehicles [Twitter / Twitter / Twitter]

See also - Wikipedia / BBC / Sky News / CNN / The Sun / Mirror / Express / Daily Mail / Telegraph / Guardian / Independent / London Evening Standard

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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