THE pilot who was killed in this morning's helicopter crash in London had helped save lives in Cumbria as a crewman with the Great North Air Ambulance, it has emerged.

Captain Pete Barnes, who lived in the Reading area, left the charity four years ago, but former colleagues remembered him fondly today.

The 50-year-old was the only person aboard the chopper, which hit a crane in the Vauxhall area of the capital before cartwheeling to the ground in flames.

A second person died on the ground.

Kevin Hodgson, director of operations at the Great North Air Ambulance, worked alongside Captain Barnes for several years, flying on life-saving missions across the north.

He said: “Pete was as good a guy as you can imagine and one of the best pilots I’ve ever had the pleasure of flying with.

“Over the years he will have flown on dozens of missions, no doubt saving lives along the way.

“Everyone at the charity is deeply saddened at this news. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the tragedy.”

Captain Barnes had amassed 12,000 hours of flying time, including 3,500 hours on the type of craft he was piloting today.

ITV News reported that he worked as a pilot on adverts, TV programmes and films including Saving Private Ryan and Tomb Raider II.

He also worked freelance for Surrey helicopter charter firm RotorMotion, where staff were said to be 'shocked and in mourning'.

A spokesman said: "Pete Barnes was an extremely well-skilled pilot with in excess of 12,000 hours on his licence.

"His tragic death this morning is a great loss not only for the UK helicopter community but for RotorMotion as well.

"Our thoughts are with his young family at this sad time."

Meanwhile, North Lancashire MP David Morris was caught up in the horror of the crash as the aircraft plummeted to the ground just yards from his apartment.

Mr Morris reported hearing a loud bang at around 8am.

Shaken by the tragedy, he wrote on Twitter: "I am shocked, a helicopter crashed about 100 yards away from my flat. Thoughts are with those directly involved."

Dozens of emergency service vehicles rushed to the scene after the airborne collision, which reportedly happened in foggy weather.

Firefighters rescued a man from a burning car.

Thirteen people were left injured, with some taken to hospital and others given treatment at the crash site.

Police said the helicopter was on a scheduled flight from Redhill, Surrey, to Elstree, Hertfordshire.

An investigation into the accident, which left the crane in a 'precarious' position, is underway.