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Ejection seat manufacturer fined £1.1m.

An ejection seat manufacturer prosecuted after the death of a Red Arrows pilot thrown from his jet has been fined £1.1m.

Flt Lt Sean Cunningham, 35, was ejected while conducting pre-flight safety checks in a Hawk T1 jet at RAF Scampton on November 8 2011 and was fatally injured after the parachute on the seat failed to deploy.

The seat manufacturer, Martin-Baker Aircraft Ltd, previously admitted breaching safety laws at Lincoln Crown Court.

At a previous hearing, prosecutor Rex Tedd QC said there was a risk "to many pilots over a lengthy period. 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.

"The pilot would be several hundred feet in the air and there could only be one result of that, the pilot's death."

The court previously heard an assessment by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) that such an incident would happen only once in more than 100 years. It was also told the firm had a "good system" in place which "just failed in this instance.”

However, the judge, Mrs Justice Carr, said the company fell short of the appropriate standard and that the tragedy was entirely preventable.

She said: "A significant number of pilots and potential passengers were exposed to the risk of harm over a lengthy period.”

Speaking after the sentencing, Flt Lt Sean Cunningham's father, Jim Cunningham, said his son's death was preventable.

He said: "Martin-Baker was aware of the defect more than 20 years ago, and it took Sean's death for the issue to come to light. We can only hope they have learned a lesson and that no-one else goes through this hell because of faulty equipment."

He said his son, who suffered five skull fractures and 40 body fractures, was a wonderful young man with "a heart as big as the world", whose life had been cruelly cut short.

Martin-Baker Aircraft Ltd had already agreed to pay £550,000 in prosecution costs.

In a statement, the company, based in Denham, Buckinghamshire, said: "Our thoughts remain foremost with the family and friends of Ft Lt Sean Cunningham, to whom the company conveys its sadness, regret and apology."

The firm admitted the health and safety breach on the basis it had failed to provide a written warning to the RAF about over-tightening a bolt on the aircraft. It added its ejection seats were in use by 92 air forces and had saved more than 7,000 lives.

Operations manager for the Health and Safety Executive, Harvey Wild, which said in 2016 that it would prosecute Martin-Baker Aircraft Ltd, for breaching health and safety law, said the death was "avoidable" and Martin-Baker "failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect users from the risk of harm.”

 

 

 

 

 

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