How far away is death? Surprise Ejection On $70 Million Fighter Jet
With elements of a dark comedy, a surprise retirement celebration—a flight on a $70 million fighter jet—led to a very sudden ejection at 2,500 feet.
A 64-year-old French defense ambassador was retiring; to show their appreciation and well wishes on the occasion of his retirement, his employees planned quite a surprise—a flight in a $70 million Dassault Rafale B fighter jet.
Apparently the coworkers didn’t know their colleague as well as they imagined.
When the ambassador arrived at the Saint-Dizier airbase in northeastern France and realized what his “surprise” was, he felt extremely stressed.
According to the aviation accident investigation report from the Paris-based BEA (Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis), the pensioner had “never expressed a desire to take part in a flight like this, and especially not in a Rafale.”
The report weighed in, “The need to keep the surprise until the moment of the flight had hugely risky consequences, especially as regards preparation for the flight.”
“This situation generated a feeling of stress for the passenger, and this was particularly felt during the ejection seat briefing, where he had to assimilate a large amount of information in a very short time.”
[The flight had been authorized by the French Air Force staff at the request of the Defense Ministry, further applying pressure to the honoree, who was considered a VIP.]
“In addition, the stress of surprise has been magnified by the complete lack of military aviation experience.
“The passenger said he had a complete lack of knowledge of the aeronautical environment and its constraints, having never flown on a military aircraft.”
The flight’s 35-year-old captain had 2,000 flying hours, including 905 flying a Rafale. The captain stated that he usually had a military comrade in the back seat of the two-seater jet.
The report relayed that, “Faced with a fait accompli on the day of the flight, it was very difficult for him [the retiree] to refuse to participate in the flight.”
The retiree reacted by reaching for anything he could find to hold onto and accidentally pulled the ejector handle of the $70 million fighter jet!
Here is the timeline that led to more than one near-miss:
- 4 of the retiree’s colleagues arrived at the airbase, bringing along a professional photographer, and fixed a Go-Pro camera on their coworker’s helmet to film the afternoon flight.
- The retiree expected a gradual ascent, but the plane climbed at 47 degrees, rather than the 10 to 15 degrees of a standard passenger plane.
- The retiree reacted by reaching for anything he could find to hold onto and accidentally pulled the ejector handle.
- He flew out at high speed. He lost his ill-fastened helmet prior to landing in a field.
- A loud banging noise occurred simultaneously with the force of the ejection: The retiree’s unsecured mask and oxygen mask were torn from his face.
- The airborne retiree managed to use his parachute to land in a field, shocked, with minor injuries.
- Analysis of the radio recordings revealed that the pilot was in control of the situation. Upon being informed that his passenger had ejected, the pilot recognized that the Rafele-B’s command ejection system is designed to simultaneously eject his seat as well as his passenger, and “remained calm following the loss of the rear seat and the canopy.”*
*Source for the Lesson Learned: Task & Purpose, “A technical glitch saved a French fighter pilot after a civilian passenger freaked out and ejected,” Haley Britzky, April 2020.
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