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Ejector seat maker admits health and safety breach after Red Arrows pilot’s death

Prosecutor says design ‘was defective from the outset’

One of the world’s leading ejector seat manufacturers has admitted breaching health and safety law over the death of a Red Arrows pilot.

Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham was fatally injured after being ejected from his Hawk T1 aircraft while on the ground at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, on November 8, 2011.

The parachute on the Mark 10B ejector seat did not deploy and the South African-born airman died later in hospital.

Martin-Baker Aircraft Ltd director John Martin pleaded guilty on behalf of the Middlesex-based company on Monday to a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in connection with the 35-year-old’s death.

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

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

A date for a future hearing was set for February 12 at the same court.

In tributes following his death, his family, who attended court on Monday, paid tribute to a “much-loved son and brother”.

Father Jim, mother Monika and sister Nicolette, who remained calm throughout the hearing, said in a statement: “Sean loved his flying and we hope that his life will be an inspiration to all those who share his dreams.

“His fun-loving nature has never failed to put a smile on the faces of those who knew and loved him – this is how he will be remembered.”

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

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

“We appreciate that the Health and Safety Executive, during this process, has acknowledged this dedication and track record of saving lives.”

The company describes itself on its website as as family-run business and “the world leader in the design and manufacture of ejection and crashworthy seats for nearly 70 years”.

In the statement, the firm said it had been designing and manufacturing ejection seats for 73 years “and in that time these ejection seats have been flown by 92 air forces, with over 17,000 seats currently in use.

“Our ejection seats have saved the lives of 1,050 British Royal Air Force and Navy aircrew, with a further 6,009 aircrew lives saved around the world.”

Flt Lt Cunningham died after his ejector seat initiated during pre-flight checks.

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.

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

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