23 Apr 2018

Red Arrows Ejector Seat Manufacturer Fined

The death of a Red Arrow pilot has led to a fine of £1.1m for the company which manufactured his faulty ejector seat and put pilots at risk of serious injury at work.

Sean Cunningham, a 35-year-old RAF flight lieutenant, died tragically at RAF Scampton in November 2011 as the result of a workplace accident. While carrying out pre-flight checks on one of the Red Arrows' famous Hawk T1 aircraft. Flt Lt Cunningham was ejected from the cockpit and fell 200ft to his death when the parachute on the Mark 10B seat failed to deploy.

A legal hearing into Cunningham's death has now found Martin-Baker Aircraft, the Middlesex-based company who manufacture the Mark 10B ejector seat, failed to ensure his safety. The company admitted failing to ensure the safety of pilots, leading to this most serious injury at work and what the Judge called “an entirely preventable tragedy”.

Martin-Baker Aircraft was fined £1.1m for the negligence which lead to Flt Lt Cunningham's death, and also agreed to pay £550,000 worth of prosecution costs after hearing how the workplace accident was caused by an over-tightened bolt. Because of the tightness of the bolt, the parachute was unable to open, leading Cunningham's fellow pilots to watch in horror as he fell to the ground with the ejector seat still strapped to his back.

Flt Lt Cunningham's death was described by his family as a “preventable death waiting to happen”. Prosecutor Rex Todd said that Martin-Baker Aircraft had endangered a huge number of pilots, stating that “If the pilot was ejected from the Hawk aircraft, two shackles would not release from one another and would jam together and the main parachute would not deploy.”

Martin-Baker Aircraft describes itself as the “world’s leading manufacturer of ejection and crashworthy seats”. In a statement, the company said “This tragic accident was the result of an inadvertent ejection and main parachute deployment failure due to the over-tightening of the drogue shackle bolt. In November 2017, the HSE confirmed that the inadvertent ejection was not caused by any fault attributable to the company.”

In related events, a funeral has been held for Red arrows Corporal Jonathan Bayliss, who died when the Hawk T1 he was travelling in crashed at RAF Valley in Anglesey in March. The aircraft's pilot was seen to eject as it began to nosedive, but Cpl Bayliss remained trapped and died as a result of the crash. A full investigation into the crash and Cpl Bayliss' death is currently underway.

If you would like to find out more about how to claim for a serious injury at work, please use our Live Chat feature to talk to a member of the Winns team today.

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