London helicopter crash pilot expressed concern over weather, inquest told
The pilot of a helicopter which suffered a fatal crash in central London "wasn't looking forward" to the flight because of the weather conditions, his partner has said.
Pete Barnes, 50, died from multiple injuries after the helicopter he was flying hit a crane on The Tower at St George Wharf, Vauxhall, and plunged into Wandsworth Road on the morning of January 16 2013.
Pedestrian Matthew Wood, 39, from Sutton, Surrey, was also killed as he walked to work. Twelve other people on the ground were injured in the crash.
Mr Barnes's long-term partner, Rebecca Dixon, told the inquest into the deaths of the two men that he had expressed concern about the forecast of freezing fog.
She said: "I was a little bit worried because he did seem a bit more... quite often he would get up and go and be happy, but he talked the day or so before the flight that he wasn't particularly looking forward to it and he didn't know if he would complete it because the forecast wasn't very good."
Ms Dixon added: "Freezing fog isn't a good outlook when you're flying."
Senior coroner Andrew Harris asked her: "Was he a man who took risks?"
She replied: "Within limits. He knew what he could and couldn't do. I wouldn't say he took adverse risks."
Mr Barnes, f rom Berkshire, had been flying for helicopter firm RotorMotion from Redhill Aerodrome, Surrey, to collect r estaurateur Richard Caring in Elstree, Hertfordshire, but was diverted to London's Battersea heliport.
Ms Dixon told the jury of eight women and three men at Southwark Coroner's Court that her partner had a "good relationship" with Mr Caring because he included the pilot in leisure activities following flights.
"He was always polite, he was pleasant," she said. "It was fun because quite often once the flight was over he would shoot with them and have dinner with them.
"It wasn't as if he was on his own in a hotel room. He was included."
Ms Dixon told the hearing that Mr Dixon had been a pilot for 24 years, and had worked in a freelance capacity since 1997.
Mr Barnes was "something of a celebrity" with a local radio station because "he had a great personality", Ms Dixon added.
The coroner read an extract from a toxicology report on Mr Barnes which confirmed that "alcohol did not play a part in this incident".
He also told the jury that pathologist Dr Peter Jerreat carried out a post-mortem examination which concluded that he died from multiple injuries "as a result of the impact with the ground".
The inquest heard evidence from RotorMotion operations assistant Declan Lehane, who said Mr Barnes had expressed doubts about whether the journey would be possible as they drank tea on the morning of the flight.
He told the hearing that the pilot had said to him: "The weather might not allow landing at Elstree but I'll go and have a look to see if there's a hole in the cloud."
Asked about his own feelings, Mr Lehane said: "The weather was discussed but nothing that put my mind at doubt."
He explained that it was Mr Barnes's responsibility to check weather conditions before flying and recalled that he was looking at forecasts using his iPad.
He said that helicopter pilots communicate with the company by text message and that a number of these were sent during the flight.
One of these read: "Can't get in at Elstree HDGB (heading back) assuming it's still clear (at Redhill)."
Pilots would normally make contact if there was a change of plan so it was a surprise when he found out Mr Barnes was heading to Battersea, Mr Lehane said.
The inquest was told of other texts sent by Mr Barnes.
One message, sent to the client minutes before the flight, read: "I'm coming anyway. Will land in a field if I have to."