Ejector seat maker guilty in Red Arrows death

Ejector seat maker Martin-Baker Aircraft Ltd has admitted breaching health and safety law over the death of a Red Arrows pilot.

Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham, an experienced flyer, was ejected from his Hawk T1 aircraft while conducting pre-flight checks on the ground at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, on 8 November 2011.

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

John Martin, statutory director of Martin-Baker Aircraft Ltd, pleaded guilty on behalf of the company at Lincoln Crown Court on Monday, admitting a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Prosecutor Rex Tedd said: “The first matter in dispute is the question of design. We say it was defective from the outset.”

At an inquest into the 35-year-old’s death death in 2014, Central Lincolnshire coroner Stuart Fisher criticised the manufacturer for failing to warn the RAF about safety issues.

The company describes itself on its website as a “world leader in the design and manufacture of ejection and crashworthy seats”.

Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham died in 2011. File pic

Image: Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham died in 2011

Judge Mrs Justice Carr told the court: “In light of the defendant’s guilty plea the matter will now proceed to sentencing.”

In a statement, Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Ltd said: “Firstly and most importantly we express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham.

“It should be noted that this was an isolated failure relating to the tightening of a nut during maintenance procedures conducted by RAF Aerobatic Team (RAFAT) mechanics,” it added.

It said its priority “has and will always be the safety of the aircrew who sit on the Company’s seats”.

Martin-Baker says a “further and more detailed press statement” will be released at the conclusion of proceedings.

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A Health and Safety Executive spokesman said: “HSE acknowledges the defendant’s guilty plea but will not make a further comment until after sentencing.”

The next hearing is due to take place on 12 February.