Red Arrows pilot in ejector seat tragedy


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The Independent Online

A Red Arrows pilot was killed yesterday after being ejected from his aircraft while it was on the ground.

The incident at the aerobatic team's base at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, in one of the display team's Hawk T1 aircraft, took place while the plane was on the airstrip.

The Ministry of Defence grounded all Hawk T1 aircrafts temporarily in July last year when a potential ejector seat fault was found. The Red Arrows were cleared to fly again a week later after the jets passed technical inspections.

The MoD said a full investigation was being launched to determine the cause of the accident. The pilot will be named today.

Speaking from RAF Scampton, Group Captain Simon Blake said: "It would be inappropriate to speculate on the cause of the incident until that inquiry is complete. The investigation will determine the facts."

He added: "The pilot's next of kin have been informed. Our thoughts and prayers are with the pilot's family and friends at this difficult time."

Residents living nearby the airbase reported hearing a loud bang coming from the runway yesterday morning.

"My children and I heard a massive bang that echoed across from the runway area to our house," Chris Boatman, who lives nearby, told the BBC. "Not long after that an air ambulance flew a few metres over the house."

Medical teams rushed to RAF Scampton after the incident at around 11am yesterday. The Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Air Ambulance airlifted the pilot to Lincoln County Hospital but his injuries were so severe that he could not be saved.

The accident came less than three months after another pilot with the world-famous aerobatics team, Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging, 33, was killed in an air show crash in Dorset. Eyewitnesses described seeing the aircraft flying low before smashing into a field and coming to a standstill with its nose in the River Stour near the village of Throop. Hundreds of RAF servicemen and women joined the hugely popular pilot's family and friends at a packed memorial service in Lincoln Cathedral last week.

The RAF temporarily halted flying of all 126 of its Hawk T1 training jets to investigate the cause of the earlier tragedy. The Red Arrows completed their final display of the season in September and are carrying out their winter training at RAF Scampton.

The team have suspended their training following yesterday's tragedy, although the rest of the Hawk T1s have not been grounded, the MoD said.

Hawk T1s are also used for training fast-jet pilots at RAF Valley in Anglesey, North Wales, and RAF Leeming, near Northallerton, North Yorkshire.

During winter training each Red Arrows pilot flies three times a day, five days a week.

Ejector seats: The hazards

Ejecting from an aircraft travelling at high speeds can be a very dangerous manoeuvre. The force of ejecting at 740mph, the speed of sound, can reach in excess of 20Gs, which can be fatal.

Despite this, statistics reveal that about 90 per cent of the pilots who are forced to eject from their aircraft do survive.

Ejecting from a plane takes no more than four seconds from the time the ejection handle is pulled. Pulling the handle sets off an explosive cartridge, launching the ejection seat into the air.