Inquest of Red Arrows pilot death released

Jan 15, 2014
Flt Lt Sean Cunningham's aircraft during the incident

An inquest of the Flt Lt Sean Cunningham, death, revealed that seat's firing handle was in the wrong position when the Red Arrows pilot entering the cockpit. Commander Danny Stembridge, who leads investigation, said this meant Flt Lt Cunningham could have unwittingly triggered the device that activates ejection seat.

Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham flying as Red 5, was killed on 8 November 2011 when his ejection seat fired up while the Hawk T1 plane was still on the ground. The incident occurred at the team's home base Scampton, while the RAF aerobatic display team prepared for a training flight. Flt. Lt. Cunningham was throw to about 200 feet and fall to the ground as the parachute failed to open. He dies from multiply injures in the hospital. This happened a three months after the other Red Arrows fatal incident, when Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging died during airshow display.

Cdr Stembridge said his investigation found the firing handle had "probably" been left in an unsafe position for four days before the fatality. It is possible that the handle had been in that position for the entire four days but no-one said they didn't do the check. Seven RAF technicians had checked the aircraft on 19 occasions - but no-one noticed anything wrong.

But why the parachute failed to deploy? Bad coincidence caused the Flt Lt Sean Cunningham's death.

The danger with the ejection seat was well known by Martin Baker but not to Royal Air Force. Martin Baker Ltd warned customers in foreign Air Forces in 1990 that over-tightening a crucial nut in the seat could prevent the parachute opening when it fired. Why this information never reached Ministry of Defense is an under investigation.