UK & World News

  • 10 January 2014, 18:06

Red Arrows Death: Friend Saw Ejection Tragedy

A friend and colleague of a Red Arrows pilot who died after he was ejected from his cockpit has described how he watched the tragedy unfold.

Corporal David Morris watched in horror as Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham was propelled 200-300ft in the air from his Hawk T1 aircraft while it was on the ground at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire.

The parachute on the ejector seat did not deploy and the 35-year-old South African-born pilot later died in hospital.

Cpl Morris said he was standing with a colleague when the canopy blew, scattering debrisacross the ground which they had to duck to avoid, and it took a few seconds to realise what had happened.

He told an inquest in Lincoln: "I watched it from start to finish and when I saw the drogue deploy the seat stabilised but from where I was standing it looked like Flt Lt Cunningham was trying to stabilise himself.

"I could see his limbs moving and then the seat seemed to come to some sort of position where it was falling properly and that's when I thought it would separate from Ft Lt Cunningham.

"He came down almost in slow motion, but obviously fairly quickly, and hit the floor. I could hear and feel the thud beneath our feet."

Asked by Richard Seabrook, counsel to the inquest, if he saw any signs of life, Cpl Morris paused to take a deep breath before answering: "No."

Flt Lt Cunningham was a highly-regarded and experienced pilot as well as an Iraq war veteran.

The team were preparing to fly to RAF Valley in Wales at the time of the tragedy on November 8, 2011.Ground crew had been carrying out their pre-flight checks, as had the pilots in their cockpits.

Earlier this week, Central Lincolnshire Coroner Stuart Fisher said tests showed Flt Lt Cunningham had used Night Nurse, which includes the ingredient promethazine, the evening before the incident.

"It is conceivable that side effects of this medication can include drowsiness, blurred vision, disorientation or poor concentration, and could have been responsible for a degree of cognitive impairment, but there is no way of proving this with certainty," the inquest heard.

However, in written evidence to the inquest another doctor reported it was very unlikely that any sedative effect had remained the following morning.

Following the incident, the RAF grounded all non-essential flying of aircraft fitted with the Mk10 Martin Baker built ejector seat "as a precaution", but flights later resumed in December 2011, with air chiefs saying they had "no remaining safety concerns".

Evidence from around 70 witnesses is expected during the inquiry, which is expected to last around three weeks.

The inquest continues.

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