Ejection Seat Manufacturer Pleads Guilty

Red Arrows pilot Sean Cunningham, 35, died on Nov. 8, 2011, following the ejection from his aircraft, which was on the ground. Martin Baker Aircraft Ltd manufactured the ejection seat.

Six years after Sean Cunningham, a pilot with the Royal Air Force's aerobatic team, the Red Arrows, died when his ejection seat engaged and his parachute did not deploy, the manufacturer of the ejection seat, Martin-Baker Aircraft Company, has pleaded guilty to a charge under Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Etc Act 1974, the Health and Safety Executive announced Jan. 22.

Cunningham, 35, died on Nov. 8, 2011, following the ejection from his aircraft, which was on the ground. Martin Baker Aircraft Ltd manufactured the ejection seat. An inquest was  held in 2014. HSE investigated and prosecuted the case against the manufacturer.

No sentencing date has been set, but a hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 12-14, according to the agency. An HSE spokesperson said, "HSE acknowledges the defendant's guilty plea but will not make a further comment until after sentencing."

The company posted a statement saying a maintenance failure was the cause. Its statement says in its entirety: "Firstly and most importantly we express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham.

"Today, Martin-Baker Aircraft Company entered a guilty plea to a single breach of Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This plea was entered following detailed and lengthy discussions with the Health and Safety Executive which have considerably narrowed the issues from when its investigation first started. It should be noted that this was an isolated failure relating to the tightening of a nut during maintenance procedures conducted by RAF Aerobatic Team (RAFAT) mechanics.

"Martin-Baker Aircraft Company has designed and manufactured ejection seats for 73 years and in that time these ejection seats have been flown by 92 air forces, with over 17,000 seats currently in use. Our ejection seats have saved the lives of 1050 British Royal Air Force and Navy aircrew, with a further 6509 aircrew lives saved around the world.

"Martin-Baker's priority has and will always be the safety of the aircrew who sit on the Company's seats. We appreciate that the Health and Safety Executive, during this process, has acknowledged this dedication and track record of saving lives.

"A further and more detailed press statement will be released at the conclusion of these proceedings."

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