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Safety queried before copter crash

Concerns about the safety of flying in the vicinity of a high-rise building in London were raised four years before a helicopter crashed into a crane at the site, an accident report has said.

The question of the effect of the then-proposed St George Wharf development on helicopter flights was put to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in 2009 by the operator of Battersea Heliport in south London.

But in a report into the crane crash in which the helicopter pilot and a pedestrian were killed, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said the raising of the concerns "does not appear to have led to further discussion or action".

It was while heading for Battersea Heliport in fog that pilot Pete Barnes, 50, in an Agusta 109 helicopter struck, at a height of about 700ft, the jib of a crane attached to a building development at St George Wharf at Vauxhall, south London, and crashed into the street on the morning of January 16 last year.

Father-of-two Mr Barnes, who had piloted helicopters for films such as the Bond movie Die Another Day, was killed as was pedestrian Matthew Wood, 39, with 12 other people on the ground being injured and cars and buildings damaged.

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.

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