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Lawyer for crashed helicopter victims calls for reform

Report released today by Air Accidents Investigation Branch suggests concerns raised in 2009 were not acted upon

Police and construction workers deal with the aftermath of the helicopter crash at St George

9 September 2014

The lawyer representing two people who were injured when a helicopter crashed into a crane and fell to the ground in Central London in January 2013 has urged the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to fully implement the recommendations made by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).

In January 2013 an Agusta 109 helicopter piloted by Pete Barnes clipped a high-rise crane on The Tower in Vauxhall. The crash killed Mr Barnes and pedestrian Matthew Wood. Twelve others were injured.

The report into the crash by the AAIB, which was released today, suggests that concerns were raised about the safety of flying in south London four years before the incident.

According to the report the operator of Battersea Heliport raised concerns about the effect that the St George Wharf development at Vauxhall would have on helicopter flights to the CAA in 2009.

However, the raising of these concerns "does not appear to have led to further discussion or action" according to today’s report.

Mr Barnes was flying through fog to the Battersea Heliport, at approximately 700ft, when he hit the jib of a crane at St George Wharf and crashed into the street.

Making 10 safety recommendations, the AAIB said:
  • The building at St George Wharf was added to the UK's digital vertical obstruction file by co-incidence rather than through a systematic process.
  • The building was not included in the helicopter's obstacle database.
  • Between the time of construction of the building and the implementation of amended air traffic control (ATC) procedures after the January 2013, ATC controllers possibly, and inadvertently, issued clearances to aircraft, which, if complied with, would breach flying regulations.
  • There is no effective system in place to anticipate the potential effects of new obstacles on existing airspace arrangements when the obstacles are outside areas that are safeguarded in regard to aerodromes and future development.
  • The Battersea Heliport is not an officially safeguarded aerodrome.
  • There is no requirement for local planning authorities to notify the CAA when granting planning permission for obstacles extending over 300ft when those obstacles are outside safeguarded areas
  • Mr Barnes's client who he was due to pick up at Elstree aerodrome in Hertfordshire had warned him by text about the weather and when Mr Barnes was unable to land at Elstree he had continued with his intention to land at Battersea "despite being unable to remain clear of cloud"
  • He turned on to a collision course with the crane and was probably unaware of the helicopter's proximity to the building at the beginning of the turn.
  • Mr Barnes did not see the crane, or saw it too late to take effective avoiding action.

Daniel Easton, a partner in the Leigh Day personal injury team, who is representing two men injured by the crash, said:

“We would call on the CAA to do everything it can to ensure a tragedy like this cannot happen again.

“The report is very clear about the causes of the collision between the helicopter and the crane and therefore action must now be taken by the authority to prevent similar collisions in the future. "We have spoken to crane operators who said this was an 'accident waiting to happen'.

“Our clients along with many other Londoners were lucky not to have been killed by a helicopter falling to the ground on a busy City street. It must not happen again.”

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