London crash pilot Pete Barnes told us: Saving lives is such a buzz
THE helicopter pilot who died yesterday in London had told the Derby Telegraph that saving lives with the county's air ambulance gave him as big a buzz as flying in Bond movies.
Pete Barnes died when his aircraft clipped a crane in central London and crash landed.
One other person was killed and 12 were injured.
Former Derby student Mr Barnes was a pilot for Derbyshire's air ambulance service.
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In an interview with the Telegraph, he said: "I've flown celebrities, such as Lewis Hamilton, and been in films Casino Royale, Die Another Day and Tomb Raider 2, but flying the air ambulance means I can put my skills to use saving lives."
Pilot Pete Barnes died yesterday when the helicopter he was flying crashed in London. Jade Beecroft and Paul Whyatt report.
Despite his impressive CV flying the likes of Brad Pitt and taking part in Bond films, Pete Barnes made it clear he got just as big a kick out of saving lives.
The 50-year-old pilot, who died after the helicopter he was flying crashed into a crane in central London yesterday, had worked for Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance.
He had also piloted helicopters in movies such as Die Another Day, Tomb Raider II and Saving Private Ryan but he once told the Derby Telegraph that saving lives gave him just as much of a buzz.
The father, who lived in Reading, was killed when his helicopter spun out of control and crashed near Vauxhall station after he attempted to divert the aircraft to a helipad due to bad weather.
One other man, named last night as Matthew Wood from South London, died and 12 others were injured.
The AgustaWestland 109 Power – which was similar to the air ambulance Mr Barnes flew in Derbyshire – clipped a crane before exploding in flames and crashing into the streets below.
Mr Barnes, who once studied in Derby, was working for flight operator RotorMotion, an executive helicopter charter business. The aircraft was on a commercial flight from Redhill, in Surrey, to Elstree.
The eight-seater helicopter left Redhill Aerodrome at 7.35am amid low cloud cover and poor visibility and 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.
Those who worked with Mr Barnes in Derbyshire paid tribute to him yesterday.
A spokeswoman for Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: "Everybody at the Royal Derby Hospital is shocked and very saddened to hear the tragic news of Pete Barnes' death.
"He provided a very valuable service to our patients as a hugely experienced air ambulance pilot making life-saving helicopter journeys to our rooftop helipad."
Mr Barnes' online CV on the website LinkedIn said he had worked for Derbyshire's air ambulance on a freelance basis from 1997 to the present day.
In 2008 he took a reporter and photographer from the Derby Telegraph on a flight in the charity's helicopter.
The organisation had just taken delivery of a new, state-of-the-art aircraft – an Augusta 109 which had a top speed of 180mph.
Mr Barnes was talkative and charismatic as he showed the machine to our reporter and was keen talk about the adventures he had encountered in his job.
He said he had been a stunt pilot in two James Bond films, landed a helicopter in the middle of London's Piccadilly Circus and flown movie stars including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
He was clearly an adrenalin junkie but also genuinely passionate about the life- saving role he was playing with the air ambulance, with Civil Aviation Authority approval to land almost anywhere to save a person's life.
He said the buzz of landing the helicopter in hard-to-reach parts of Derbyshire or in the middle of the M1 motorway to answer 999 calls was just as exciting as anything he had done for 007.
"The air ambulance is perfect for Derbyshire," he said. "We can reach the most inaccessible parts of the Peak District where a land ambulance wouldn't have a hope of getting to. We are also in the process of applying for a winch for the helicopter, which would mean, in situations where we can't land, we could hover above a casualty and winch a doctor down to them or lift them to safety.
"I've flown celebrities, such as Lewis Hamilton, and been in films Casino Royale, Die Another Day and Tomb Raider 2, but flying the air ambulance means I can put my skills to use saving lives."
The 999 calls that Mr Barnes answered were fielded by East Midlands Ambulance Service. Phil Milligan, chief executive of EMAS, said yesterday: "We have worked with Pete over many years and this news has come as a terrible shock.
"Our thoughts are with Pete's family and friends, including his colleagues at the air ambulance and here at East Midlands Ambulance Service.
"Paramedics he worked with have also asked me to pass on their condolences."
And Andy Williamson, chief executive of the air ambulance service, said: "We are deeply saddened. Pete had worked with us for many years and will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with all the families affected by this tragedy."
Mr Barnes was born in Nottingham in 1962 and studied at Oakham School, before going on to study business and marketing at what is now the University of Derby.
A University of Derby spokesperson said: "Peter Barnes was a mid-1980s business student of Derbyshire College of Higher Education, which in 1992 became the University of Derby.
"We would, of course, like to join in extending our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Mr Barnes at this very difficult time."
Mr Barnes then worked as a ski instructor and guide across Europe before entering the advertising industry.
After training to become a pilot, he spent time in the US, working in Florida and on the east coast before returning to the UK.
His career included flying a helicopter for Newcastle's traffic and travel service and flying in television programmes, movies and adverts.
This summer he was employed by the London Olympics organisers in a number of roles.
He also worked as a contract pilot for several aviation firms, which led him to flying for a wide variety of clients, including the BBC and Sky News.
Mr Barnes had been working on a freelance basis for RotorMotion since 1997.
Philip Amadeus, managing director of RotorMotion, said: "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."
Staff at Redhill Aerodrome, the firm's base, confirmed that the aircraft left the site at 7.35am, 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 the helicopter crashed just before 8am.
Addressing a press conference near the scene of the incident, Commander Neil Basu, of the Metropolitan Police, said: "It was something of a miracle that this was not many, many times worse."
London Fire Brigade station manager Bruce Grain, one of first firefighters at the scene, said it "was absolute chaos".
Six fire engines, four fire rescue units, a number of other specialist vehicles and 88 firefighters attended the scene of the crash, a few hundred yards from MI6 and the future American embassy site.
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."
AA president Edmund King also paid tribute to Mr Barnes last night. He said: "In the past he was instrumental in helping road safety as he used to fly air ambulances at the time supported by the AA. In 2004 he helped rescue a motorist from flooded Stanhope Ford in County Durham while working for the Great North Air Ambulance."
And Jolyon Palmer, a racing driver who competes in the Formula One feeder GP2 series, tweeted: "Helicopter pilot Pete Barnes helped save my life in 2007 after I had a serious quad bike accident."
Police are working with other agencies including the Air Accidents Investigation Branch and the Civilian Aviation Authority to investigate the cause of the crash.