In November of 2011, Flt. Lt. Sean Cunningham died from injuries he sustained in a plane accident. But the plane in question wasn’t flying; it was on the ground at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire.
Cunningham was performing the pre-flight checks on his Hawk T1 jet when the incident took place. His ejector seat initiated while he was in it – and the parachute didn’t deploy on the way back down. Cunningham died at the hospital from his injuries.
The ejector seat manufacturer, Martin-Baker Aircraft, plead guilty in the case. The company has admitted to breaching health and safety laws pertaining to the death of the pilot.
Records show that the firing handle on the ejector seat had been left in an unsafe position. The senior coroner for Lincolnshire, Stuart Fisher, said that the problem lies in an “entirely useless” safety pin that goes through the firing handle.
He continues, saying that the pin was “likely to mislead” pilots into thinking that the handle was safely secured. Tests show that the pin could be inserted into the handle even while the handle was in an unsafe position.
Stuart criticizes Martin-Baker for not warning RAF about these kinds of safety issues. And despite the 19 checks that were performed on the Hawk T1, there was repeated failure to notice that the firing handle was in an unsafe position.
The next hearing for this case will be on February 12th.