Ejector seat manufacturer attacked in Red Arrows inquest

A coroner has criticised the manufacturer of an ejector seat for failing to warn the RAF of defects that led to the death of a Red Arrows pilot. Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham died after he was ejected from his aircraft while on the ground.

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Father pays emotional tribute to Red Arrows pilot

The father of a Red Arrows pilot killed after he ejected from his aircraft while on the ground has paid an emotional tribute to him as an inquest into his death drew to a close.

Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham, 35, was killed after he was ejected from his Hawk T1 aircraft while on the ground at RAF Scampton and propelled 220ft in the air in November 2011.

Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham died in November 2011. Credit: PA Wire

Speaking after the narrative verdict was delivered, Jim Cunningham said: "Our son Sean died aged 35 doing what he loved, which was flying with the Red Arrows.

"From the age of 17, he had wanted nothing more than to join the Royal Air Force and serve his country, which he did with utmost pride and sense of duty. He served a number of tours in Iraq flying Tornados in close air support of coalition forces.

"Sean's death was a tragedy which we hope the evidence revealed in this inquest will help to avoid in the future. We welcome the conclusions of the coroner, which confirm what we knew all along, which is that Sean was blameless and his tragic death was preventable.

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Ejector seat handle left in unsafe position

The inquest heard that the ejection seat firing handle had been left in an unsafe position, meaning it could accidentally activate the seat.

Mr Fisher described a safety pin that goes through the firing handle as "entirely useless" and said its presence was "likely to mislead".

The inquest heard that the ejection seat firing handle had been left in an unsafe position. Credit: PA Wire

There were 19 checks carried out on the Hawk T1 between the final flight on November 4 and the incident.

The coroner said there was a repeated failure not to notice that the pin had been incorrectly housed and that the seat firing handle was in an unsafe position.

However, he said tests had showed that the pin could be inserted into the MK 10 seat even when it was in an unsafe position, giving the impression to RAF personnel that the seat was safe.

The coroner also said that Martin Baker was aware of issues with the over-tightening of crucial nuts and bolts in the mechanism of the seat which would cause the main parachute not to deploy properly.

However despite being aware of these issues since 1990, Martin Baker failed to pass on the warnings to the Ministry of Defence, the coroner said.

Mr Fisher said that, on the day of the incident, a shackle jammed and stopped the main parachute from opening and Flt Lt Cunningham being separated from the seat.

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Coroner: Red Arrows pilot's seat was 'entirely useless'

The coroner investigating the death of a Red Arrows pilot has branded part of the ejection seat on Sean Cunningham's plane as "entirely useless".

Sean Cunningham

Cunningham was 35-years-old when he died in November 2011 from multiple injuries when he was catapulted nearly 300 feet into the air from his Hawk T1 aircraft, and then fell to the ground still strapped to his ejector seat.

Coroner Stuart Fisher said seven RAF personnel had 19 opportunities to check the ejection seat firing handle, but did not notice it was in the unsafe position.

He said "repeated failure to notice this" could only be due to the checks "not being done at all or not done sufficiently carefully by each individual".

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