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Red Arrows pilot Sean Cunningham 'died from fall injuries'

By Barnaby_B  |  Posted: November 22, 2011

  • The Red Arrows jet from which Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham 'ejected'

  • Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham

  • The Red Arrows' Hawk jets lined up at RAF Scampton after the incident

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A Red Arrows pilot died from multiple injuries due to a fall from height following ejection from an aircraft at RAF Scampton, an inquest has heard.

Flight Lieutenant Sean James Cunningham, 35, was killed when he was ejected from his Hawk T1 while on the ground at the Red Arrows base in Lincolnshire on Tuesday, November 8.

HM Coroner Stuart Fisher opened and adjourned his inquest into Flt Lt Cunningham's death at Lincoln Registry Office this morning.

The inquest heard that Flt Lt Cunningham had completed ground safety checks when the ejector seat of his Hawk jet was deployed. The main parachute did not deploy and the pilot did not become separated from his seat during the incident, the hearing was told. He landed on the ground still strapped into his seat.

An ambulance was called and Flt Lt Cunningham was taken to Lincoln County Hospital where he was confirmed dead in A&E at 12.14pm.

A post mortem was carried out and the cause of death was given as multiple injuries due to a fall from height following ejection from an aircraft. Toxicology tests were performed and came back negative.

An independent inquiry into the cause of the accident is being carried out.

Det Supt Shaun West, from Lincolnshire Police, told the inquest they were investigating the incident and the details will be reported back to the coroner in due course.

Coroner Stuart Fisher adjourned the inquest to a later date but said it could be “months” before it is reopened.

Flt Lt Cunningham joined the RAF in 2000 and completed several operational tours of Iraq as part of Operation TELIC – flying close air support missions for British, American and Iraqi ground forces – before becoming an instructor at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire.

In October last year, Flight Lieutenant Cunningham was one of three new Red Arrows pilots to join the world-famous display team. This year he was promoted to the important Red 5 position.

His father Jim, mother Monika and sister Nicolette – said: “Sean was first and foremost a much-loved son and brother who will be dearly missed by all of his family and his many good friends.

“Since his childhood Sean had dreamed of flying fast jets in the Royal Air Force and through his hard work and dedication he achieved that dream, and the pinnacle of his career was to fly in the Red Arrows. Sean loved his flying and we hope that his life will be an inspiration to all those who share his dreams.

“His fun-loving nature has never failed to put a smile on the faces of those who knew and loved him – this is how he will be remembered.”

All but vital flights in planes with Martin Baker Mk 10 ejection seats were stopped while air accident officials investigated the tragedy.

The RAF announced last week that all flying in Tornado attack jets can resume, but the ban remains in place for Hawk T1, Hawk T2 and Tucano aircraft.

Flt Lt Cunningham was the second Red Arrows pilot to be killed in three months after Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging, 33, died in a crash at Bournemouth air show in August.

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