A RED Arrows pilot from Coventry died because of a faulty ejector seat, its manufacturer has admitted.
Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham, aged 35, was unexpectedly hurled 300 feet up from his aircraft and the parachute did not function.
It happened while the Hawk T1 jet was on on the ground at RAF Scampton seven years ago.
Uxbridge-based Martin-Baker Aircraft Ltd has now pleaded guilty at Lincoln Crown Court to breaching health and safety laws.
The South African-born airman, who grew up in Coventry, was also an Iraq war veteran.
An inquest heard Flt Lt Cunningham hit the ground with devastating force.
He had been performing safety checks of the craft.
Martin-Baker had been aware for years that the parachute mechanism might jam, the inquest heard.
Coroner Stuart Fisher also said the seats’ safety mechanism was “entirely useless”.
Manslaughter charges had been ruled out due to insufficient evidence, but the Health and Safety Executive prosecuted.
In a statement issued by the firm today after entering the guilty plea, it said: “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.”
The firm is due to be sentenced on 12 February.