Inquest into death of Red Arrows pilot Sean Cunningham finds ejector seat safety mechanism 'entirely useless'

Flt Lt Cunningham was killed at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire after he was accidentally ejected while his aircraft was on the ground

A coroner has described a safety pin on an ejection seat that threw a Red Arrows pilot to his death as "entirely useless" and criticised its manufacturer for failing to warn the RAF of the defect.

Flt Lt Sean Cunningham, 35, was killed at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire on November 8th 2011 after he was accidentally ejected from his Hawk T1 aircraft while it was on the ground.

Flt Lt Cunningham, who was born in South Africa and grew up in Coventry, was propelled 220ft in the air from the cockpit of the plane.

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

The court heard that testing of the Mk.10 Martin-Baker seat showed it was still possible to insert a safety pin into the seat even when it was in an unsafe position.

Coroner Stuart Fisher described the pin mechanism as "entirely useless".

The failures associated with the ejection handle should not have proved fatal as Flt Lt Cunningham should have been saved by his parachute.

However, Mr Fisher told the hearing that the main chute failed to deploy because a nut and bolt had been fastened too tightly.

The court heard that seven RAF personnel had 19 opportunities to check the ejection seat firing handle between the final flight on November 4 and the incident.

All personnel failed to notice the seat was in the wrong position.

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.

The court heard that Martin-Baker knew the parachute mechanism could jam if the nut and bolt were too tight as early as January 1990.

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

Following the three-week inquest, Central Lincolnshire coroner Stuart Fisher recorded a narrative verdict.

Mr Fisher said: "There was a very serious failure of communication by Martin- Baker (the manufacturer) in my view. It is unexplained by the evidence. It seems there is no logic to warn and inform some but not others."

In a statement released after the hearing today, Air Commodore Terry Jones, speaking on behalf of the MoD, said: "The tragic loss of Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham at RAF Scampton in November 2011 is still keenly felt by the Royal Air Force, the Red Arrows and all of Sean's former colleagues.

"Our thoughts have always been and continue to be with his mother and father Monika and Jim and sister Nicolette and his extended family and friends. They remain in our thoughts and prayers as always.

"We are grateful to the Coroner for his thorough examination of the facts and to the preceding thorough inquiry conducted by the Military Aviation Authority. There have been a number of lessons for us and others to absorb and correct and we have made and will continue to make every effort to ensure that such a tragic accident cannot occur again. The Red Arrows in particular will be a stronger, safer and better team as a result."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
The cartoon depicts the UK (far left) walking around a Syrian child refugee
newsIn an exclusive artwork for The Independent, Ali Ferzat attacks Britain's lack of 'humanity'
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
film
Sport
footballManager attacks Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp after criticism of Diego Costa's apparent stamping
News
video
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Infrastructure / Development Support

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunity to join a...

Recruitment Genius: Partnership Relationship Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Partnership Relationship Mana...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Developer - Xamarin

£45000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software development compa...

Recruitment Genius: Student Support Assistants - Part Time & Full Time

£14600 - £17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are passionate about sup...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore