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Royal Air Force 87 Sqn Javelin FAW-1 XA569 18th February 1959

Navigator Flt. Lt. Alec Cooper - ejection seat problems - unsuccessful - fatal

 

Flt. Lt. Richard "Dick" Carrey

 

Harness hang‑ups

SIR‑Although I missed the item in your March 15 issue concerning a tragic accident involving a Bulldog pilot, I read with great interest the letter from Mr C. Buttars (April 12), in which he mentions a pilot falling from his harness after ejecting from a Hunter in 1957. As I must be one of the few people to have experienced this mishap and survived, I feel obliged to comment.

After ejection from a Javelin Mk1 in February 1959, I had a very rough ride in the ejection seat down to the auto‑separation altitude. The drogue assembly had been damaged in exiting through the plexiglas canopy, with the result that the seat was spinning and somersaulting all the way down from 42,OOOft. My relief when the automatics operated perfectly turned to consternation when I pitched forward, not only out of the seat, but out of my parachute harness as well.

Luckily for me one of the thigh straps jammed in the crotch loop, and I ended up, at 10,000ft,hanging upside down by one leg. I must confess that this was a bad moment. By hauling myself upright by the dinghy pack I was able to hook my arm through the harness and clasp my hands together before the jammed thigh strap gave way. By the time I landed, on a small island in the Scheldt estuary, I seemed to have been hanging from that arm for a very long time.

My claims that my harness had been correctly fastened before this incident were, of course, greeted with incredulity, but within days another 2nd TAF pilot had an almost identical experience. Ft Lt Roy Rimington, in a Swift F.R.S,had ejected at low level after an engine seizure and had found his parachute harness open, but was saved

by a jammed leg strap, just like I was. Being at low level, Rimmy had no time to pull himself upright before landing, but with the luck of the devil fell headfirst into the river Weser and was fished out by some British soldiers.

The Hunter, the Swift and the Javelin, all of which I have flown in squadron service, had certain features in common. Not only did they have separate seat and parachute harnesses, but the pilots at this time all wore the dreadful American designed A13 oxygen mask. The connector on the end of the oxygen tube was a great big casting which we clipped to the front of the lifejacket to prevent it lashing around in the event of an ejection.

This lump of metal sat right over the release plate of the parachute harness. I believe that it was more than enough to strike the plate a hard enough blow, and the antics performed by my seat could well have unlocked the box, as described in Mr Buttars' letter. However, both Rimington and I were using the spring clip as described, which, although cheap, simple, and idiot proof as Mr Buttars claims, unfortunately did not work.

A year after my accident I recall mounting a simple demonstration at RAF Cranwell, where I was a QFI on Vampires. A student was asked to sit in a chair wearing a correctly fastened parachute (with safety clip), and four others were told to pull on the four webbing straps to keep them as tight as possible. Provided the tension on the fasteners was sufficient, a smart blow on the release plate with a hide‑faced mallet would open the harness every time. The principle involved was that a shock loading would cause the pistons in the release box to bounce, allowing the ends of the straps to escape. The great Houdini is reputed to have been able to open hand‑cuffs by banging his wrists together.

The type of parachute release box described was rapidly taken out of service, and must now have been obsolete for more than 20 years, so was certainly not fitted to the Bulldog. Ejection seats nowadays have combined seat and parachute harnesses, and one has never heard of similar accidents happening subsequently. Who knows? Perhaps the powers‑that‑be DO learn by past mistakes.

 R. A. J. CARREY Stockbridge Hampshire

FLIGHT INTERNATIONAL, 26 April 1986
Letters page 50 col. 2 & 3