Friday, November 22, 2013

Shocking footage will not be shown, rules coroner: Red Arrows pilot Sean Cunningham inquest - BAe Hawk T1, XX177

Distressing amateur film footage of Red Arrows pilot Sean Cunningham being ejected from his aircraft will not be shown publicly at his inquest, a coroner has ruled.

Flight Lieutenant Cunningham, 35, died after his ejector seat fired while his Hawk T1 jet was on the ground at RAF Scampton on November 8, 2011.

He was shot 200ft into the air and his parachute failed to open.

An ejector seat is designed to be fired into the air and a small parachute called a drogue deploys to give stability and slow the descent.

This causes a scissor shackle link to open, allowing the drogue to drag out the main parachute.

A full inquest, to begin on January 9, will examine what initiated Mr Cunningham’s ejection, why the parachute did not open and cultural issues surrounding the team.

Central Lincolnshire coroner Stuart Fisher told a pre-inquest hearing today: “I very much hope that the video will not have to be played.

“I will make it available to advocates of necessary but I’m going to make a direction it will not be shown in public.”

The court heard an alleged ejector seat fault in Mr Cunningham’s aircraft was a “single rogue event” related to a “seized shackle”.

Mr Fisher rejected an application from the family’s lawyer Tom Kark, QC, that Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Limited and the MoD identify any “previous similar problem” with the Mark 10 seat.

“I believe this application is disproportionate and speculative,” said Mr Fisher.

“Martin-Baker has provided statements that this was a rogue event in relation to the performance of a shackle.”

Mr Fisher ruled that reasonably targeted requests for police exhibits would be considered.

But he said he would not order the disclosure of witness statements.

“I believe it may be prejudicial to the Health and Safety investigation,” said Mr Fisher.

Andrew Prynne, for Martin-Baker, said the company had no record of any like drogue shackle incidents of the kind that has prompted this inquest.

He added: “If there were reports of reports of inadvertent ejections that bore any relevance they would have been disclosed.”


Work culture of Red Arrows to be probed at pilot's inquest

The Red Arrow's working culture will be investigated at an inquest into the death of a pilot who was killed after being ejected from his grounded jet amid claims the intensive flying schedule may have been a contributory factor.

 The culture of the RAF's Red Arrows is be investigated at an inquest into the death of a pilot who was killed when he was ejected from his cockpit following claims that overwork may have played a part in his death.

A pre-inquest hearing in Lincoln was told pilots and ground crew working for the crack aerobatic team will be among over 40 witnesses called at the hearing into the death of Flt Lt Sean Cunningham, due to be heard in January.

Flt Lt Cunningham, 35, originally from Coventry, died in November 2011 after being flung 200ft in the air from his Hawk Jet by the ejection seat while he was grounded at the Red Arrows' base at RAF Scampton, Lincs, and his parachute failed to work.

Earlier this year it was claimed that pressure on the top pilots to perform as many displays as possible may have impacted on aircraft maintenance and the staff themselves and been a factor in Flt Lt Cunningham’s death.

The number of hours the Red Arrows are required to fly has been reduced by more than 10 per cent from 3000 annual flying hours to 2,600, a pre–inquest review in August heard.

The hearing this week was told issues with the ejection seat trigger and the working of the parachute will also be examined by the Central Lincolnshire Coroner Stuart Fisher.

Mr Fisher said: “What initiated the ejection seat and why didn't the parachute open are primary matters I am going to be looking at.

“I am also going to be looking at cultural issues as well. We are going to have a lot of evidence about culture.”

Five pilots are due to give evidence including Squadron Leader Jim Turner who took over as Red One, the leader of the team, for the 2012 flying season.

The first Arrows' female pilot Kirsty Stewart is included among the witnesses. She and other pilots will be legally represented at the full inquest as “interested parties”.

But the coroner ruled out hearing evidence from the civilian manager of the Hawk Simulator at RAF Valley in North Wales where the team undertakes some training.

Flt Lt Cunningham's death remains under investigation by the Health and Safety Executive following the conclusion of an earlier police investigation.

Bernard Thorogood, counsel for the HSE, told the hearing that consideration is being given to bringing criminal charges over the fatal incident.

He said “The HSE investigation is only a few months old. The files were handed over in August of this year.

“The HSE is addressing possible charges. That is what the investigation is into. It is looking into potential breaches of the criminal law."

Lincolnshire Police previously carried out an investigation into Flt Lt Cunningham's death but chose not to bring charges.