Ejection seat manufacturer Martin Baker Aircraft Company Ltd (Martin Baker) has been fined £1.1 million over the “avoidable” death of a Red Arrows pilot in 2011.
Lincoln Crown Court heard that Martin Baker made and supplied the ejection seat that failed on 8 November 2011 after Flt Lt Sean Cunningham, a pilot, was ejected whilst the Red Arrows were preparing to take off from RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that a mechanical fault led to the failure of the parachute deployment mechanism designed to bring the 35-year-old pilot to ground safely. This resulted in the main parachute failing to deploy.
Flt Lt Cunningham suffered multiple serious injuries and was pronounced dead shortly after being airlifted to hospital.
HSE inspectors found that in the 1990s two aircraft manufacturers had made Martin Baker Aircraft Company Ltd aware of issues with the drogue and scissor shackles, designed to deploy the main parachute for the ejection seat mechanism. The design of the component was such that at zero speed and zero altitude the ejection seat could fail to operate as intended.
Martin Baker pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Today, the company has been fined £1.1 million and ordered to pay costs of £550,000.
HSE Operations Manager Harvey Wild said: “Our investigation found that Martin Baker Aircraft Company Ltd failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect users from the risk of harm after it was told of concerns regarding the shackles which deployed the main parachute.
“The death of Sean Cunningham was therefore avoidable. Our thoughts today are with his family, who are both devastated by these appalling events and proud of Sean for fulfilling his ambition of becoming a pilot with the Red Arrows.”
Martin Baker response
A statement from Martin Baker said: “Our thoughts remain foremost with the family and friends of Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham, to whom the company conveys its sadness, regret and apology. 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. Upon receiving clarification of the HSE’s case, the company accepted a breach of s.3(1) of the Health & Safety At Work Act 1974, on the basis that it failed to provide a written warning to the RAF not to over-tighten the drogue shackle bolt.
“Martin-Baker’s ethos has always been to design and manufacture the highest quality ejection seats and that the maintenance should be carried out to the highest possible standards, under effective supervision and by regularly trained and qualified personnel.
“Martin-Baker has designed and manufactured ejection seats for 73 years and in that time they have been flown by 92 air forces. Our seats have saved the lives of 1,050 RAF and Royal Navy aircrew with a further 6,510 aircrew lives saved around the world.”