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Company fined £1.1m following Red Arrows pilot death

An ejection seat manufacturer has been sentenced following the death of a Red Arrows pilot in 2011.

Lincoln Crown Court heard that Martin Baker Aircraft Company Ltd made and supplied the ejection seat that failed 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.

A number of inquiries took place after the incident, including a police investigation, a Ministry of Defence investigation and an Inquest. HSE worked alongside Lincolnshire Police, the Coroner, and the military investigators throughout these inquiries.

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 Aircraft Company Ltd of Lower Road, Higher Denham, Near Uxbridge, Middlesex 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.