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Sean Cunningham inquest: firm 'should have warned RAF not to over-tighten vital nut'

Sean Cunnigham from Coventry died when his ejector seat activated on the ground at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire in 2011 Credit: ITV News Central

An official from the company which made the ejector seat used by Red Arrows pilot Sean Cunningham has told an inquest into his death the firm should have warned the RAF not to over-tighten a vital nut.

The inquest heard that seat manufacturers Martin Baker only warned some of its customers that if a nut was too tight the ejector seat chute was likely to fail.

The RAF was not told.

Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham from Coventry died when his ejector seat activated on the ground at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire in 2011.

The inquest continues on Thursday.

Inquest hears pilots death put spotlight on shortfall in staffing

An inquest has heard the death of a Red Arrows pilot put the spotlight on a shortfall in staffing at their Lincolnshire base.

Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham Credit: ITV News Central

Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham died at RAF Scampton in November 2011 when he was ejected from his aircraft while it was on the ground.

Air Commodore George Martin, who was chief air engineer at the time, told Central Lincolnshire Coroner's Court more staff were being brought in around the time but the incident highlighted the need to rectify the shortfall.


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RAF engineer: 'We weren't properly trained'

An RAF engineer has told an inquest on Tuesday of how a dream posting to the Red Arrows turned into a nightmare after he discovered he was expected to carry out his new job without training.

Chief Technician Norman Briggs, who joined the crack aerobatics team in April 2011 said he had no previous experience of working on Hawk jets used by the Arrows but was left to his own devices after simply being shown round the hangar at their base at RAF Scampton, Lincs.

Sean Cunningham

The inquest at Lincoln is examining the circumstances surrounding the death of Red Arrows' pilot Flt Lt Sean Cunningham, 35, who lost his life in November 2011 after his ejection seat went off while he was on the ground preparing to take off.

He was thrown 300 feet into the air and suffered fatal injuries when he fell back down to earth still strapped in his seat after his parachute failed to open.

Red Arrows

The hearing has been told that at the time the ground crew team was up to 30% short of the numbers needed to operate efficiently with many of those arriving on the team straight from their basic training.

Mid Lincolnshire Coroner Stuart Fisher is also looking at what part problems with the ejection seat played in the fatal incident.

Chief Technician Briggs told an inquest that he was appointed to a supervisory role as avionics trade manager with the team but was not given the training he needed to carry out the job.

RAF bosses approved £1m extra Red Arrows spending following death, inquest hears

RAF bosses approved £1million a year extra spending on the Red Arrows within weeks of the death of a pilot from Coventry, an inquest has heard today.

Sean Cunningham Credit: ITV News Central

Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham died when he was ejected from a plane at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire.

A senior engineer told the inquest that a colleague had identified the squadron was 38 engineers short. A meeting to increase manpower took place in the week after the pilot's death.

Metal thefts fall in West Midlands after new law introduced

The number of metal thefts in the West Midlands fell by almost 30 per cent in 2013.

New laws introduced last year made it harder to deal in scrap metal. Credit: Press Association Images

Last year the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 was introduced which makes it illegal for traders to offer cash for scrap being weighed in at their yards. It also made it obligatory for them to have a licence to deal in scrap metal.

In December offers from across the Black Country carried out two weeks of operations tackling traders who were operating illegally on the region's roads.

In two weeks last month the police say they stopped more than 90 scrap metal collectors and found that 27 people did not have a licence.

Coroner to examine why pilot's parachute did not open

The inquest has been told that Flt Lt Cunningham would have survived if his main parachute had opened. The coroner Stuart Fisher will examine whether the failure of the parachute was as a result of a nut being over-tightened preventing the chute from being released.

SAC Joseph Tiley, who had helped Flt Lt Cunningham prepare his aircraft for take-off on a journey to RAF Valley in north Wales from the Red Arrows base at RAF Scampton, Lincs, said the ejection seat went off as he was carrying out last minute checks.

"I was taking a step back to do the air brakes when I saw a flashy and black smoke. At that point I tucked myself up unto a ball, put my hands over my head and closed my eyes. I didn't see any of the ejection."

The inquest was told that colleagues initially thought SAC Tiley may also been killed.

Sgt Chris Clarkson, who was supervising the preparations for take off, said "I caught the flash from the ejection out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look and I saw Sean leaving the aircraft. I watched him go over my head. Then we started getting hit by canopy so I turned away.

"I saw Joe Tiley on the floor. Being so close to the aircraft I thought he was possibly dead. "

The hearing in Lincoln continues on Monday and is expected to last until the end of this month.


Ground crew ran for safety after Red Arrows seat ejected

The inquest into the death of Red Arrow Sean Cunningham today heard how ground crew ran for safety after he was thrown 300 feet into the air when his ejection seat went off while he prepared for take-off.

The 35 year old from Coventry was about to set off with four colleagues to fly from the Arrows' home base at RAF Scampton, Lincs, to RAF Valley in North Wales when the tragedy occurred in November 2011.

Cpl David Morris, who was standing in front of Flt Lt Cunningham's Hawk when the ejection seat went off, said "The canopy filled with smoke and then Flt Lt Cunningham went with his seat through the canopy. As the canopy blew it took a couple of seconds to register what had happened.

"Then we ran to avoid parts of the canopy hitting us. I knew at some point the ejection seat was going to separate and it was going to fall to the ground.

"It looked like Flt Lt Cunningham was trying to stabilise himself. I could see his limbs moving. It looked as if he was trying to get his balance. The parachute didn't open. The seat came down and hit the floor, I could feel the thud. I saw the whole thing."

Low resources 'took my breath away' - Red Arrows Leader

An inquest into the death of Red Arrows pilot Sean Cunningham has heard that Squadron Leader Martin Higgins said he was surprised at the lack of resources in the team after returning from four years away.

The big change I have seen is that resource is now a big issue. It is a big ask on the boys downstairs [the engineers]. They understand what they need to do and really want to do it but I think they are at the stage where they need some resources.

When I looked at the board for August it took my breath away. It was quite busy with very few days off.

It surprised me. There were very few opportunities for engineers to get their hands on the aeroplanes.

Clearly four years had passed since I left the team. The aeroplanes were not getting any younger.

I assumed that the tempo would naturally have decreased with less resources that were at hand.

There were fewer engineers. In 2007 there were far more experienced personnel at the corporal-plus level. It seemed to me that a lot of dilution had occurred.

– Red Arrows Squadron Leader Martin Higgins

Inquest hears hectic schedule gave engineers little time

An inquest into the death of pilot Sean Cunningham has heard that the hectic schedule of the Red Arrows display team meant engineers had little time to conduct work on their Hawk jets.

The inquest also heard the number of available engineers for the team had been reduced over the previous four years, but the workload remained the same.

Sean Cunningham Credit: ITV News Central

Sean Cunningham died in November 2011 after his ejection seat fired him into the air while he was preparing for take off.

The inquest was told the team was up to 20 engineers short and many were inexperienced with a number of mechanics on their first RAF posting after completing their basic training.

Squadron Leader Martin Higgins told the inquest that before Mr Cunningham's death the Red Arrows had been concentrating on learning lessons from the death of pilot, Jon Egging, who lost his life three months earlier when his Hawk Jet crashed while taking part in an air show at Bournemouth.

Squadron Leader Higgins said, "Due to the fact of Jon Egging's crash the priority would have focused on the lessons identified from the crash rather than administering the air safety management plan."

The hearing in Lincoln continues and is expected to last three weeks.

Inquest into Red Arrows pilot's death begins

The inquest into the death of Red Arrows pilot Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham has begun.

The 35-year-old Red Arrows pilot died at RAF Scampton in November 2011 when he was ejected from his aircraft while it was on the ground.

The pathologist, Professor Guy Rutty, said the pilot had died after suffering injuries consistent with a fall.

He said the investigation was focused on his consumption of Night Nurse the evening before.

Another Red Arrows pilot Flight Lieutenant Pert gave evidence this morning, answering questions about the positioning of the firing handle for the ejector seat.

The inquest is expected to last three weeks.

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