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Ejector seat fear raised decades ago, inquest told.

CONCERNS about the assembly of parts of an ejector seat parachute were raised with the manufacturer more than two decades before the death of a Coventry Red Arrows pilot, an inquest has heard.

The inquest into the death of Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham has heard evidence that overtightening crucial nuts and bolts in the mechanism of the seat could cause the parachute not to deploy properly.

Flt Lt Cunningham, who grew up in Ernesford Grange, was killed after he was ejected from his Hawk T1 aircraft while on the ground at the RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire and propelled 200 to 300ft in the air, on November 8, 2011.

He was a highly regarded and experienced pilot with the RAF's aerial display team as well as an Iraq war veteran.

The main parachute on the Mk10 Martin Baker-built ejector seat did not deploy and the 35-year- old South African-born airman later died in hospital as a result of multiple injuries.

The inquest has heard that after an ejection seat fires a "drogue" parachute - a small parachute - comes out to give stability, followed by the main chute.

A piston inside the seat forces a scissor shackle to release the drogue shackle from its jaws but for the shackles to separate the nut and bolt through both of them must not be over-tightened.

The inquest has heard that instructions given to those fitting the seats was to tighten the shackle nut and bolt with one or one-anda-half threads showing.

To over-tighten could prevent the parachute from opening though some witnesses giving evidence to the inquest, which included RAF staff who worked on or with the fighter jets, said they were not aware of this.

The inquest into Flt Lt Cunningham's death in Lincoln heard from Neil Mackie, who was a reliability support engineer in the quality assurance department at Martin Baker.

He said he was sure he would have communicated in a phone call to BA that the drogue shackle nut and bolt should not be overtightened.

He said that after Flt Lt Cunningham's death he was told that the bolt on the pilot's seat was found bent.

Asked by Tom Kark QC, representing the pilot's family, what he made of that, Mr Mackie said: "Vastly over-tightened.'' The company has since brought in a new shouldered or sleeved bolt which cannot be over-tightened.

The inquest continues

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Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham, 34, from Coventry
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jan 21, 2014
Words:402
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