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Fatal Red Arrows ejection seat incident ‘likely only once every 115 years’

Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham was fatally injured after being ejected from his Hawk T1 aircraft at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, in 2011.

A Red Arrows pilot died after the parachute on his ejection seat failed to deploy in an event that would only happen “once every 115 years”, a court has heard.

Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham was fatally injured after being ejected from his Hawk T1 aircraft while conducting pre-flight checks 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 fell 200ft before he later died in hospital.

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A Red Arrows Hawk TMk1 XX177 at RAF Scampton (Alex Britton/PA)

But the defence submissions for Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Ltd said an assessment by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was that such an incident would happen only once in more than 100 years.

The court was also told that the Middlesex-based firm had a “good system” in place and it “just failed in this instance”.

At Lincoln Crown Court on Tuesday, Richard Matthews, defending, said: “The company accepts its responsibility for the significant contribution and failings it has made in the death of Lieutenant Cunningham.

“Nobody can convey the sadness, regret and the apology on behalf of the company and all those who stand behind it. I know you will accept that it is enormous.

“The ethos of the company from its inception is for the ejection seat to be a lifeboat that should operate effectively in every situation.”

Mr Matthews added: “In the 1990s, what Martin-Baker had in place was a good system and it just failed in this instance.

“The MoD’s assessment of the likelihood of a similar event such as this happening is that it would only happen once every 115 years.”

Martin-Baker Aircraft Ltd director John Martin admitted on behalf of the company to the failure to ensure the safety of non-employees in connection with the 35-year-old’s death at a hearing on January 22.

The Honourable Mrs Justice Carr adjourned sentencing until Friday February 23 at the same court.

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