Ejector seat manufacturer admits failings over death of RAF pilot

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Ejector seat manufacturer Martin-Baker Aircraft Ltd has admitted breaching health and safety law at Lincoln Crown Court over the death of Red Arrows pilot Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham.

Statutory Director of the company, John Martin, pleaded guilty on behalf of the company to Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The company said in a statement following their guilty plea:

“Martin-Baker’s priority has and will always be the safety of the aircrew who sit on the Company’s seats.”

Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham, who was based at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, was killed in 2011.

At an inquest into his death in 2014, Central Lincolnshire coroner Stuart Fisher criticised Martin-Baker for failing to warn the RAF about safety issues.

His ejector seat initiated during the pre-flight checks of his Hawk XX177 jet while on the ground and stationary at the Lincolnshire airbase.

The serviceman was thrown 300ft into the air before plunging to the ground at the RAF aerobatics team’s base.

The parachute on the ejector seat did not deploy and the South African-born airman later died in hospital.

Flt Lt Cunningham qualified for his private pilot’s license at the age of just 17, joined the RAF after graduating with a degree in electrical and electronic engineering from Nottingham Trent University.

He had previously spoken to a local paper about his enthusiasm for the job, saying:

“Being on the Red Arrows team has been my dream job and something I have wanted to do since I can remember. I remember seeing them on the telly and thinking I want to be able to do that.”

Martin Baker provides ejection seats for 93 air forces worldwide, with the products fitted into multiple types of aircraft, including the new F-35 Lightning II that will be deployed from HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The company claimed in 2014 that since the first live ejection test in 1946, a total of 7,450 lives have been saved by the company’s ejection seats.

No sentencing date has been set. A hearing has been arranged at Lincoln Crown Court for 12/13/14 February 2018.