Norfolk

Navigator died after seat 'detached' from RAF Tornado

A navigator died after his seat "detached" from an RAF Tornado as it flew upside down during a test flight in Norfolk, an inquest has heard.

Mike Harland, 44, who worked for BAE Systems, died after taking off from RAF Marham near Swaffham in November 2007.

The inquest in Norwich heard that he suffered multiple injuries. His body was found in a field near South Creake.

Coroner Jacqueline Lake told a jury the two-seat fighter jet had undergone servicing and was being tested.

She said the pilot was carrying out an "inverted turn" when Mr Harland's seat "detached from the aircraft and fell to the ground".

She said Mr Harland's parachute was "disabled".

Jurors at Sprowston Manor Hotel near Norwich were told that no-one had been prosecuted as a result of the accident.

Mr Harland, of Colsterworth, Lincolnshire, was a married father-of-two.

BAE Systems said, after the accident, that he was "much respected".

'Detailed checks'

Martin Lowe, the Ministry of Defence's head of engineering, told the inquest that the Tornado was one of the first of the RAF's fleet to be fitted with new parachutes.

He said work had been carried out by RAF technicians at Marham and added that during the fitment "several changes had occurred to the ejection seats".

Mr Lowe told jurors how ejector seats worked and gave a detailed explanation of the locking mechanism designed to stop seats slipping when planes were upside down.

He explained how ejector seats underwent a series of detailed checks after being fitted - including checks by pilots and navigators.

Mr Lowe said the jet's cockpit canopy was designed either to blow off - or shatter - before aircrew ejected. He said the canopy was designed to shatter if the plane detected a certain amount of vertical movement in the ejector seat.

A BAE spokesman said the firm employed about 250 people at RAF Marham and held a £130m contract to maintain and upgrade the RAF's fleet of Tornado GR4 aircraft.

The inquest continues.

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