back to article French pensioner ejected from fighter jet after accidentally grabbing bang seat* handle

An elderly and reluctant Frenchman was ejected from a French Air Force fighter during a retirement day jolly – and narrowly missed taking the pilot with him, an investigation report littered with unintentional howlers has revealed. The unnamed 64-year-old was éjecté from the two-seat Rafale-B from a height of 2,500ft in March …

  1. Chris G Silver badge

    Double ejection

    I am willing to bet ad he exited the aircraft the departing passenger experienced a second ejection.

    The landing for the pilot must have been something of a brown trouser moment too.

    1. Nunyabiznes Silver badge

      Re: Double ejection

      Definitely a P&P (poop and pee) moment for the triple.

      1. Blackjack Silver badge

        Re: Double ejection

        Don't worry, jet pilots usually use high quality adult diapers.

        Unfortunately we cannot say the same about the poor guy in the back seat.

    2. KCIN

      Re: Double ejection

      No, due to a fault, the pilot wasn't ejected as well. The system should eject the pilot when the P2 leaves. That failed. The canopy was detonated.

      Apparently before the flight the passengers heart rate hit 135. It's not known what it hit when he banged out.

      The reaction to grab the release is interesting. When people get negative G, its very common for them to raise their hands. I've seen it regularly. He did the opposite.

      What's also clear is people sense through their backsides. Loose straps matter. Lap strap first and tight. That keeps your bum on the seat, even in negative G.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Double ejection

        The pilot should bear some responsibility for the incident. As my microlight instructor drilled into me, it is my job as pilot in command to ensure that not only me, but my passenger is properly strapped in (by physically grabbing and pulling his harness) and that his helmet is similarly attached. The lax attitude towards established procedure could easily have killed them both and the (potentially pilotless) aircraft could have crashed hitting and killing more people.

        On the other side, as nobody was apparently hurt; it was rather funny. I bet the look on the pensioner's face was a treat as he got ejected! He'll never forget that day! He'll have a good tale to tell to his shrink regarding his PTSD.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Double ejection

          I think the pilot bears a lot of responsibility actually. He has the final responsibility for the flight. He should totally have checked the passenger's harness and other equipment and awareness of all safety equipment (and probably should have refused to take him in the first place). It's absolutely his job to do so.

          By the way even though the pensioner survived, it's not exactly great to have your spine compressed during the forces of an ejection seat. It's a last resort to save you from certain death. It's basically a rocket you're strapped onto. Many ejected pilots have back problems and those are in the primes of their lives. And were properly strapped in. I bet this guy will have back trouble for the rest of his life.

          1. bazza Silver badge

            Re: Double ejection

            Fortunately France has an excellent health service. Who knows what his future care options would have been in a state without socialised healthcare...

            1. Andy Non Silver badge

              Re: Double ejection

              "in a state without socialised healthcare"

              He would likely be ejected from hospital.

              1. sprograms

                Re: Double ejection

                In most NP US hospitals if needing emergency care he would be treated though uninsured. Then they'd seek to gain a judgment against him and collect his house or other assets as payment against a bill much higher than the hospital would charge an insurer which had a contract-set price.

                1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                  Re: Double ejection

                  If this had happened in the US, he'd have sued the Air Force not just for any medical bills but for all sorts of damages and possible aftercare further down the line. If that many errors had occurred in the run-up to the accident, I doubt anyone would have remembered the disclaimer signature. And anyway, I'm not sure if even a disclaimer could obviate the duty of care whereby the pensioner could not possibly be expected to understand and account for all the safety procedures, equipment set-up etc. that the "pros" were supposed to deal with.

                  Even though it did happen in France and their healthcare system will almost certainly cover him, he's probably still got a case for compo against the French Air Force.

                  1. DJSpuddyLizard

                    Re: Double ejection

                    If this had happened in the US, he'd have sued the Air Force not just for any medical bills but for all sorts of damages and possible aftercare further down the line

                    And the USAF would have counter-sued for damage to their plane.

            2. SundogUK Silver badge

              Re: Double ejection

              France's excellent health care service is actually less socialised than the UK's. Everyone pays for health insurance and this will cover most things. It's only if treatments are extortionate that the state steps in.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Double ejection

                >France's excellent health care service is actually less socialised than the UK's.

                Not so - primarily funded by the government National Health Insurance scheme ~5% of income (varies by income source). France is better funded as unlike National Insurance here it's based on your income from all sources not just selected earnings - so much more socialised in fact.

                1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

                  Re: Double ejection

                  The key difference is that it isn't free at the point of delivery (costs are reimbursed from the nhi), so is much more responsive to local needs, as determined by demand, rather than having resources assigned by a central authority, based on pre-determined need, with mandates for equity and non-discrimination between regions. That would arguably make the UK the more socialised model.

                  1. Wellyboot Silver badge

                    Re: Double ejection

                    Either way, in UK or France, he gets fixed properly without his wallet being taken to the cleaners.

              2. phuzz Silver badge
                Trollface

                Re: Double ejection

                All this talk of socialism, and no one has mentioned how most armed forces are much closer to being socialism, than the health services of either the UK or France.

            3. C 7

              Re: Double ejection

              Fortunately, those countries without socialised healthcare also have militaries with the brains to say "hell no we're not letting an old guy with no training ride in our shiny without making certain he's dressed and strapped in properly and the bang button is disabled."

              So, no healthcare needed.

          2. heyrick Silver badge

            Re: Double ejection

            It's easy enough to point fingers at the pilot for not checking the guy was strapped in, but at the same time fingers need to be pointed at the ground crew for missing the safety features. This makes me very uneasy to read, given that I live in rural France and the flyboys use the countryside as their playground (under the logic that a crash will maybe kill some, probably more livestock than human, and would be nothing like as bad as crashing into a city). I mean, if they overlooked checking that, what else gets overlooked?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Double ejection

              The ground crew is not responsible. They probably share some blame but they don't have the responsibility for making the flight or not. The pilot is. He chose to take off without doublechecking what was an irregular situation at the very least.

              Even though ground crew performs maintenance, a walkaround inspection of the aircraft by the pilot is part of a flight. He carries the responsibilty for choosing to fly and the welfare of the passengers and if he took the ground crew's word for it and they were wrong, it's his responsibility for not doublechecking. He should have ensured the passenger was comfortable and well instructed. With a military copilot you could probably assume they know what they're doing. Not with a civilian.

              Even if you put a passenger in a simple single prop plane in the right-hand seat it could be a risk, the dual controls can't be disabled and it's always possible the passenger freaks out and whacks the controls at the wrong time. Even in such a situation a responsible pilot should evaluate that possibility. And GA flights are really mellow. Putting a retiree in a 4G flight is really likely to cause problems (and negative G can be even more disconcerting if you've never had that before).

              Not sure whether this goes for military flights too but I'm pretty sure the same will apply. This is not wartime where an immediate scramble is necessary.

              1. VanguardG

                Re: Double ejection

                In the USAF, the plane captain (usually a senior enlisted) would be responsible for ensuring the aircraft is ready for flight - the article states that a "mechanic" checked the pensioner's restraints, and the pilot's. This was probably the French equivalent of a plane captain. The pilot doubtless did his walkaround of the aircraft itself, but assumed the plane captain would ensure the passenger was properly settled. The Plane Captain presumed that the pilot had properly instructed the passenger. That said, neither one should have gone on assumptions or "the other person's problem", especially for an older gentleman who wasn't even a retiring pilot...they both should have checked him over at every stage...it might take the pilot x minutes to suit up, but he's done it a few hundreds of times, he should have been monitoring the older man's every move during suit up. Clearly they didn't even test the intercom to make sure the passenger could communicate with the pilot, and THAT should be a checklist item anytime there's a backseater.

                1. F111F
                  Boffin

                  USAF Terminology

                  Just to nitpick (sorry). US Navy has plane captains. USAF has Dedicated Crew Chiefs. Same role, different names. DCCs come in a variety of ranks, from SRA to MSgt, depending on the size of the aircraft, how many crew chiefs are in the squadron, etc. But we try to see each jet has at least a SSgt or TSgt assigned. What it does mean, is they are assigned to that jet, primarily (though they can be tasked to work other jets and other duties as needed). They often take great pride in "their" jet, so much so that wives often refer to the jet as "the other woman".

            2. Fat Fairy

              Re: Double ejection

              The Groundcrew don't work with or use the specialist Aircrew equipment. They just make sure you are strapped in.

              Or should do...

            3. Muscleguy Silver badge

              Re: Double ejection

              I have encountered the being up a glen side here in Scotland when the peace is absolutely shattered by a military jet screaming by and you being on a level with the pilot.

              It's a good job grouse are not good flyers though a military jet might just chew one up no damage. Though we do get skeins of geese honking through the skies in Autumn and through the Winter. One or more of those would do an engine some damage.

              Sadly I haven't been in the Glens often enough recently to tell whether the move of the planes from Leuchars over the Tay to Lossiemouth (affected often by fog) has reduced the number of flights up the Angus Glens. The high cost of Trident is distorting conventional forces and they are pared to the bone. Also HMG is deliberately running down and selling off state assets in Scotland, thinking about the inevitability of the coming divorce.

              Though if they expect Scotland to join NATO and let them know if Russian Bears are heading down the North Sea towards England it will have to negotiate that. The clusterfuck of the negotiations with Europe do not bode well so we might have you over a barrel over lots fo stuff post Independence. Don't say you weren't warned. If Boris is in charge you will be in trouble. Also the EU will be watching over our shoulders and helping us out. The Auld Alliance is about to expand.

          3. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: Double ejection

            By the way even though the pensioner survived, it's not exactly great to have your spine compressed during the forces of an ejection seat. It's a last resort to save you from certain death. It's basically a rocket you're strapped onto. Many ejected pilots have back problems and those are in the primes of their lives. And were properly strapped in. I bet this guy will have back trouble for the rest of his life.

            And this doesn't mention another point.

            When I was in the Air Cadets before they'd let us do flying or gliding we had to watch a safety video on how to use the parachute and then demonstrate to the satisfaction of some people with a spectacular lack of a sense of humor with little tolerance for adolescent practical jokes that we'd listened carefully to the training video and could use the chute.

            Part of which was demonstrating that you knew how to do the parachute landing fall (ie; land and roll) to absorb enough of the impact to avoid breaking fragile things like ankles and knees in addition to falling correctly and deploying the dammed thing.

            Obviously the ejection seat negates the need for the training on deploying it properly, but landing in a metal seat is not gonna be pleasant, and it'd be worse if the straps aren't done up properly!

            1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

              Re: Double ejection

              AIUI the occupant doesn't land in the seat. After the seat ejects, the occupant is released from it - with the occupant dangling under the canopy, and the seat dangling some distance below on a cord. Not only does this avoid the seat falling at high speed - it means it lands in the vicinity of the occupant, giving access to the emergency pack stored in it.

              1. Peter2 Silver badge

                Re: Double ejection

                It depends on the seat design. Some lose the seat afterwards, some don't.

                But my point is simply that doing a parachute landing when trained is something you have to be quite careful about. Now imagine a terrified pensioner with literally zero training making a parachute landing.

                If he didn't break his ankles or knees then he's incredibly lucky.

              2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                Re: Double ejection

                The seat dangling by a cord some distance below has another advantage. It means there will suddenly be less weight hanging under the canopy shortly before landing so the landing speed will be reduced. That means less time in total dangling in the air (unsafe situation in combat) with a less unsafe landing speed.

                NB: Military landing speeds with parachutes aren't exactly safe.

            2. phuzz Silver badge

              Re: Double ejection

              I was an air cadet in the mid 90's and although we watched the safety videos etc. the extent of the parachute landing training was "and when you reach the ground keep your knees bent so you don't break your legs", but no training or testing etc. I think the assumption was that you were almost certainly not going to use the parachute, so a couple of broken legs would be the least of your issues.

        2. SW10
          Joke

          Re: Double ejection

          The pilot should bear some responsibility

          It’s pretty clear the retired guy came from the ejector seat vendor; the crew and pilot did all they could to give him the full fairground experience...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Double ejection

        It's really lucky the system failed and the pilot wasn't ejected. Because the plane would have been out of control and could have crashed anywhere, having just taken off it would have been full of fuel. It could have been a school or a hospital.

        Normally before a pilot ejects (especially in peacetime) they're supposed to point it somewhere as safe as possible (if they still have control obviously).

        1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

          Re: Double ejection

          Safety pins left in on the pilot's seat?

          I'm betting he had a heartfelt discussion with his crew chief after he landed, if that was the case.

          1. ElectricPics

            Re: Double ejection

            The pins only restrict the firing handle so even if it was left in it should have fired.

          2. Baguette

            Re: Double ejection

            No, the pyro system for the pilot partially failed: the canopy was shattered alright, but the 'rocket' used to eject the pilot after the passengers is ejected failed to initiate. Probably a design or manufacturing fault in one of the ejection system components

            1. Uffish

              Re: "probably a design or manufacturing fault"

              Nah, connector disconnect due to badly screwed up securing sleeve. If you ask me it's the base commanding officer that needs to be disciplined, the accident report is a masterpiece of comedy except that the matter is serious.

              It beats me how the plane, pilot and passenger survived such a series of errors. Mind you, in a way, it is a good advert for the plane manufacturer (and not a good advert for the French Armée de l’air).

              1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
                FAIL

                Re: "probably a design or manufacturing fault"

                TFA says:

                The technical investigation found that the explosion ruptured the casing of the sequence selector supposed to trigger the pilot ejection seat.

                oopsie....

                1. Uffish

                  Fail, moi?

                  Excuse my French but, from the French report ," Cette rupture a eu lieu en raison d’un serrage incomplet de la vis de retenue de la ligne dans le corps du sélecteur." In other words an incompletely screwed up retaining screw allowed a cable to be forced out of the front seat ejection sequencer by the blast from the rear seat pyrotechnics going bang. This meant that the front seat didn't go bang.

                  The front seat belt-tightening and canopy-smashing pyrotechnics did work because initiated by a different cable from sequencer.

                  Someone didn't fully tighten a retaining screw - fortunately.

                  1. Peter2 Silver badge

                    Re: Fail, moi?

                    It was fortunate in this particular and probably unique case.

                    Under any other circumstance, when somebody in the plane pulls the EJECT handle then lives depend on it going off, and it should have gone off in this particular situation. Obviously it not doing saved the aircraft, but it could have as easily cost the life of the pilot.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Double ejection

            Heartfelt? I'm guessing more of the blue and extremely profane variety, where you can hear someone x hundred metres away without use of a loudhailer....

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

        3. Scottish Nelly

          Re: Double ejection

          Kudos to the pilot for landing it. We had a nav eject from a tornado on takeoff and the pilot went with him. Thankfully he had the sense to idle the throttles first, as we were at 7000 feet above sea level. The jet had taken the cable and was in the barrier, not far from the end of the runway, engines running, with an empty cockpit.

          Took us months to get it ready for flight again, only for it to deemed U/S (after ground runs) due to a twisted airframe. Only had 250 hours on it as well

        4. Baguette

          Re: Double ejection

          > they're supposed to point it somewhere as safe as possible (if they still have control obviously).

          That's a myth busted in the Fighter Pilor Podcast - the guy explains that in the heat of the moment it's very unlikely that any pilot would actually take the time to think of this.

          1. Cederic Silver badge

            Re: Double ejection

            Which is nonsense, as there are multiple recorded instances of pilots explicitly delaying their ejection to try and avoid collateral casualties, sometimes to their own personal detriment.

            1. F111F

              Memorial at Upper Heyford

              There's a memorial at Upper Heyford to an F-111E crew that chose to attempt to avoid the village when landing instead of ejecting and the aircraft hitting the village/school (probably, you never know what's going to happen when an F-111 goes pilotless). The resulting crash just missed me by about 30yds as I rounded the end of the runway. I saw the fireball in my rear and sideview mirrors and felt the "thump" as the airframe impacted. Unfortunately, the crew did not survive the ejection (the capsule did eject, but with only a partial rocket motor burn so not high enough to fully engage the parachute). When we got to the capsule (another driver and I), it was...obvious the crew hit the instrument panel and had not survived, despite restraints, etc. To top it off, the aircrew and jet were from my squadron, where I was the maintenance officer...bad day all 'round.

              1. ShadowDragon8685

                Re: Memorial at Upper Heyford

                I hope to hell those aircrew got a memorial and/or posthumous honors - the highest not relating to active combat. They risked and ultimately lost their lives protecting the civilian population they swore an oath to protect - whatever oath it was.

                That's dedication, duty and service. Nobody could have faulted them for choosing differently, but they did.

      3. KarMann Bronze badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Double ejection

        Not sure how you're reading pilot ejection into Chris G's comment, but the pilot's landing reference was to the pilot landing the aircraft afterwards, not under a parachute, and the 'second ejection' definitely didn't mean the pilot following the passenger.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Double ejection

          It was still an "interesting" landing for the pilot. The canopy had been removed and he was aware that his own seat had presumably been armed and was only a loose wire away from ejecting him at any moment.

          1. Andytug

            Re: Double ejection

            Even worse, it had partially gone off... From another site......

            As I understood it from someone involved in the Rafale community the command eject system was live and was triggered by the rear ejection. The initial sequence for the front seat was complete (pyro gases triggering canopy, seat harness retraction etc) but failed at the very last step - the main cartridge for the front seat gun itself. Apparently the front seat sequencer was energised / impinged by the pyro gases but rather than sequencing correctly it exploded and was physically blown free of the seat mounting structure.

            So the pilot got to land a cabriolet, having been subject to a power retract of his harness and with an explosively damaged seat underneath him.

            1. EveryTime

              Re: Double ejection

              Thanks for adding the details.

              Presumably the straps were tensioned for the ejection, which would change them from tight to extremely tight. And the pilot would have felt the explosion under his seat. Once he figured out that a single ejection happened, he must have realized that he no longer had the option of ejecting himself.

              As for blaming the pilot for any part of the badly-done prep, I don't see that. Presumably the pilot was already strapped into place and had no ability to check the passenger. He was relying on the ground crew for that.

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: Double ejection

                "As for blaming the pilot for any part of the badly-done prep, I don't see that. Presumably the pilot was already strapped into place and had no ability to check the passenger. He was relying on the ground crew for that."

                I'd expect that to be the case if the back seat was occupied by highly trained colleague, but not when he's taking a civvie up for a jaunt. He should have made sure the passenger was properly in place before he got in.

          2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
            Black Helicopters

            Re: Double ejection

            Any landing you walk away from...

            ...and if you can reuse the aircraft, it's a GREAT one!

          3. F111F

            Re: Double ejection

            Had something similar happen to an F-15A pilot. As he leveled off after takeoff, the canopy departed the airframe (crew chief fault for packing gear and preventing the canopy from locking fully...light went out, but it came unsecured at the push-over at altitude), taking with it all his baggage and the other equipment stored behind the seat. When he landed, the pyro actuation indicator was up, so when he taxied into his spot, we informed him he was sitting on a "hot" seat and he may want to vacate expediently...which he did.

            Ironically, he was at our base to lead an inquiry for a jet that lost it's canopy the previous week...

            1. 9Rune5 Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: Double ejection

              he was at our base to lead an inquiry for a jet that lost it's canopy the previous week...

              Two words: Duct tape.

      4. Fat Fairy

        Re: Double ejection

        The Command Eject system I worked on (the MK10) had a switch marked 'Command (both front and rear)' and 'Rear'. I doubt that the pilot would have had the command eject set to 'Command', so it is not a fault.

      5. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: Double ejection

        Maximum heart rate declines with age, the usual equation is 220 minus age which puts a new pensioner (65) at 135 assuming no history of ongoing athletic endeavour. So he would have been near max before takeoff.

        I'm 54 but a lifelong distance runner and I have recent evidence that my Max HR is at least 180. I cruise at the low 160s and still able to up that to run outside the railings by the school* with a car approaching from behind (I pride myself on it).

        *They wrap around the corner a long way. I employ the same trick to speed up Mo Farrah does I realised once. No fancy, dodgy Seattle coach required.

    3. The Bobster

      Re: Double ejection

      A very interesting (if quite long) podcast episode from the often excellent Omega Tau on host Markus Voelter's flight with the USAF dispaly team Thunderbirds, including the excellent medical briefing and flight briefing he went through. The mind boggles that this french guy seemed to just rock up and go.

      https://omegataupodcast.net/318-my-flight-with-the-usaf-thunderbirds/

      1. F111F

        Re: Double ejection

        Yeah, my incentive ride in and F-15B (76-130) required a 4 hour training session. We covered oxygen equipment, how to dress, secure, and even went through a mock ejection trainer. The pilot's briefing included: "..if we have to eject, you will hear me say "bailout, bailout, bailout". But if you're waiting for the 3rd "bailout", you'll be all by yourself."

        Great ride. Got to see the Grand Canyon, inverted. Went past Mach 1, and got to do some acrobatics. One of the best 90min of my life.

    4. regregular

      Re: Double ejection

      Indeed. Yet, it could be worse. A 1991 incident saw an ejection seat failure and the navigator stuck half inside half outside the aircraft with the parachute wrapped around the tail end of the plane.

      Quote:

      "As the plane slowly decelerated, Baden looked up to see rest of Gallagher’s body buffeting in the wind. The navigator’s head snapped about he appeared unable to breathe. [...] Gallagher’s face was distorted with the force of the wind. His cheeks and eyes were bulging. His neck strained dreadfully with the attempt to stay with the plane. At his belly were the razor-sharp, jagged edges of the Plexiglas threatening to pierce his body.

      Full Account w/ images:

      https://www.warhistoryonline.com/instant-articles/half-ejected-6-needed-irish-luck.html

  2. Nunyabiznes Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    *Bang Seat

    "after accidentally grabbing bang seat* handle"

    Ooh, la, la - That's Hot!

  3. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Pint

    A send-off to remember

    Well he'll never forget that! The other side of this is the excellent performance of the pilot after the incident, definitely a very good and highly trained pilot. I'd be willing to bet that the incident is not something that has ever been programmed into a flight simulator.

    1. Sampler

      Re: A send-off to remember

      Speaking of one to remember, any chance of any of that Go Pro footage?

  4. Bertieboy

    Clouseau lives!

    1. Glen 1 Silver badge

      Ace just couldn't go without saying Goodbye one more time. What a guy!

    2. Chozo
      Coffee/keyboard

      Merde! that was my favourite keyboard

  5. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    "strapped a Go-Pro to an approved bulkhead mounting point so the hapless passenger's gurning would be preserved for all time"

    That quote cheered me up!

    Did they publish the video?

    1. Baguette

      The full report mentions the camera was not running at the time of ejection. I guess they forgot to turn it on. A pity really...

      1. D-Coder

        Seems exactly in line with all the other incompetence.

      2. JulieM Silver badge

        The fact of the camera not even being running at the time absolutely does not surprise me.....

  6. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    I see lots of good luck here

    ... because no-one has died!

    But, does this good luck outweighs all the bad decision making?

    1. Baldrickk Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: I see lots of good luck here

      For a single incident, it clearly can. That doesn't mean that you should rely on it.

      Fails all round here.

    2. Smooth Newt Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: I see lots of good luck here

      ... because no-one has died!

      But, does this good luck outweighs all the bad decision making?

      Although the cost must have been considerable. I bet a replacement Rafaele cockpit canopy and ejection seat doesn't come cheap.

      1. Mike Moyle Silver badge

        Re: I see lots of good luck here

        "Although the cost must have been considerable. I bet a replacement Rafaele cockpit canopy and ejection seat doesn't come cheap."

        I'm sure the vendor requesting the "joy" ride will be getting a bill from the air force for the cost of same.

        ...which expense will be rolled into their next government contract.

        ...which will eventually be paid by the French taxpayers.

        Plus ça change...

      2. Peter X

        Re: I see lots of good luck here

        + cleaning the front seat.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: I see lots of good luck here

          ...and repairing whatever damage occurred under the front seat when the charge went off there. Space is at a premium so I expect there was important and expensive stuff under the seat.

  7. John Riddoch

    Given that ejection is not a zero-risk manouver at the best of times, very glad to hear everyone survived (and the plane landed safely). If he though the 4G+ ascent was bad enough, the shock of the ejection would have been worse....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Indeed -- cervical and lumber dislocations have sometimes happened to those not properly prepared.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I've no idea if the stories are apocryphal, but I remember reading about trainee RAF pilots in the 80's being told horror stories about taller pilots losing kneecaps on ejection from early versions of the English Electric Lightning...

        1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          Losing kneecaps in the airforce, losing kneecaps in northern ireland... sounds like in the 80s if you wanted to join the services and valued your knees, you'd pick the Navy.

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "hoping to give their workmate a send-off to remember"

    Some people are just impossible to get rid of.

  9. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    Elderly?

    Is The Register written by and for a set of PFYs?

    No, at 64 I do not think I'd enjoy accidentally ejecting myself from a fighter jet. But I don't think my 34-year-old self would have enjoyed it, either.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Elderly?

      No, but the .co.uk domain suggests it's written for a UK readership and we do tend to appreciate gallows humour.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Elderly?

        >.co.uk domain suggests it's written for a UK readership

        Which includes Scotland, where reaching 64 assumes some sort of "Highlander" magic

        1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

          Re: Elderly?

          that would be .scot to you laddie

  10. baud Bronze badge

    > underwent a quick medical exam from a doctor

    Missing from the reg article is the fact that the doctor okayed the flight on the condition of no negative G, information which apparently wasn't communicated to the pilot.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      There's obviously a lot of information that wasn't communicated. How to properly dress up for the flight, alerting the crew and pilot that it was a newb they were taking charge of, crew not checking for proper attire and not getting him strapped in right, pilot not checking that everyone else's check resulted in a situation where the flight could take place.

      And now we learn that the doctor had specifically forbidden negative Gs.

      That's one hell of a string of failures, and L'Armée de l'Air can thank its lucky stars that they didn't lose a plane in this fiasco, not to mention have anyone killed.

      If I were the commanding general in charge, I swear that there would be a few demotions in order.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        >If I were the commanding general in charge, I swear that there would be a few demotions in order.

        A number of gallic shrugs have been implemented

        Of course if this was the USAF it would have led to many 1000s of Powerpoint presentations

        The RAF would have initially blamed the crew, then when it was discovered they were inconveniently all alive, it would have been classified and never spoken of again

        1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

          Very good (well the last one is certainly backed up by observation and the others by surmise and suspicion - well that is as good as evidence these days).

      2. Mike 137 Silver badge

        "one hell of a string of failures"

        Pretty much every major incident results from one hell of a string of failures. Most organisations run at the very edge of safety without realising it, because even if a hazard is identified, every time they get away with it they assume it's less hazardous than they thought. Examples include both shuttle accidents, the Chernobyl explosion, Piper Alpha, the 2017 Equifax breach and many more. In each case a multitude of known or clearly identifiable hazards finally combined to trigger a major incident. What you take for granted eventually kills you.

        1. Stork Silver badge

          Re: "one hell of a string of failures"

          Flixborough, basf Oppau 1922, ...

    2. Baguette
      Headmaster

      To be precise, the flight surgeon allowed the flight provided it stayed < +3G. But, due to... an IT incident(!) the information did not reach the pilot who went on with the usual patrol take-off.

  11. Tinslave_the_Barelegged

    Great story, funnily written, but wow, what luck

    I knew a Mirage pilot who, on a training exercise, had his plane cleft in twain by a colleague - flew right through his Mirage apparently. He "pulled the Bang Seat" as so eloquently written by the El Reg scribe, but unfortunately something went wrong with the mechanism to blow the canopy, and so he and the seat went through it. He was left for dead on landing, but showed signs of life at the hospital. He was there for 6 months. He came out pretty physically damaged but my goodness, his mind was, and probably still is, what one would expect a combat pilot's mind to be. Working with him was both a joy and a lesson in one's own inadequacy.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Great story, funnily written, but wow, what luck

      There is one US fighter, presumably from the days before explosive canopy technology, where the mechanism was simply a large metal spike on the top of the seat headrest.

      1. Jim Whitaker

        Canopy removal

        There are plenty of aircraft ejection systems where the seat is intended to break the canopy and some where it is the fall-back option if canopy ejection or canopy fragmentation (by small explosive charges in those wavy lines you see) fail. For a blurry bureaucratic report see https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP75B00285R000400170001-9.pdf. Or the Martin-Baker website.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where on earth is that handle?

    In the jet fighters I've sat in, it's between your legs.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Where on earth is that handle?

      And the one's I'm familiar with have a "grab handle" in front of them about chest high. This whole thing was a comedy (all most a tragedy) of errors. Seems from here, that a whole bunch of people didn't do their job properly.

      1. not.known@this.address Silver badge

        Re: Where on earth is that handle?

        Never seen a "chest-high" ejection trigger - there's the ones on top for negative gee situations (double ring above the head) and the ones between the legs and on the side of the seat but chest-high?

        (Trained on Martin Baker seats when working at BAe "just in case" - anyone would think trusting PFYs near multi-million pound combat aircraft might have undesired consequences...)

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Where on earth is that handle?

          I wasn't calling that an ejection trigger but "grab bar" to hang on to.

    2. baud Bronze badge

      Re: Where on earth is that handle?

      Looking at the picture on the site of the manufacturer (http://martin-baker.com/products/mk16-ejection-seat-for-rafale/), it seems it's the case for the rafale too.

      1. JassMan

        Re: Where on earth is that handle?

        Presumably, the caption saying 4 lives saved with that particular suit includes the old geezer, in spite of the fact his life wasn't in danger till he pulled the handle.

        1. gotes

          Re: Where on earth is that handle?

          At least one aircraft saved too, since the pilot's seat in this instance didn't eject..

    3. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Where on earth is that handle?

      Page 23 of the document has photos of a big friendly looking ring between the legs.

      If I was in that plane, with no idea what all the bits were, entering negative G and not being well strapped in, I wouldn't put my arms up either. I'd be frantically looking for something to hold on to. Like that big friendly ring that just looks so much like "notice me! I'm something you can hold on with".

      It's a funny story, but one that describes an entire catalogue of cockups. Think how different the story would be if the plane was malfunctioning and the pilots were going to guide it away from buildings before punching out, only to have one of them die because the system that ejects both pilots had failed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Where on earth is that handle?

        True, that ring is really big and looks like a handhold.

        If they regular do 'joyrides' they really should have some kind of cover to put over it to avoid this exact thing.

        1. Cederic Silver badge

          Re: Where on earth is that handle?

          No. You do not cover it. You teach the clown in the back seat that it's there to save his life and if he pulls it when he's not meant to then you'll make sure he gets a proper burial. Even if he survives it.

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: Where on earth is that handle?

            As if that works when he panics due to some unexpected, forbidden and extremely unwelcome aerobatics.

  13. Tom 7 Silver badge

    I'm very sorry to admit this

    but that was damn funny and just what I needed.

    I would love to hear the co-pilots views on the incident but I may not be able to read the substitles.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Re: I'm very sorry to admit this

      And what the involuntary parachutist needed was a stiff drink, I would wager (that and some dried frog pills, most likely)

  14. davenewman

    Was the trip set up by people who will inherit when he dies?

    1. Andy Non Silver badge

      His heir was a fly by night.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        That was one of the ironies, he didn't want the flight but felt pressured by his team to take it.

        One of the recommendations is a longer waiting period between medical and flight to back out

  15. GBE

    Lucky he didn't get seriously injured during ejection.

    Many years ago, back when I worked in the defense industry, I read a long article in Jane's about ejection seats. Part of the article discussed the design requirements for ejection seats and the acceptable rate for an eject causing injuries like broken limbs and compression fractures of vertebra. The "acceptable" serious injury rate was pretty high.

    1. Andy Non Silver badge

      Re: Lucky he didn't get seriously injured during ejection.

      I guess it is a compromise between too fierce ejection killing the pilot with excessive g forces and not ejecting him hard enough to get high enough for the parachute to slow him down enough if he ejects at very low altitude.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: Lucky he didn't get seriously injured during ejection.

        Getting the occupant of the seat (it might be the RCO instead of the pilot) to an acceptable altitude doesn't only depend on G forces, duration of burn has also something to do with it. The reason for the at least initially rather high G forces is to minimize the time the body passes the edges of the frame, as on one side the air is moving along with the plane and on the other it can be passing with Mach 2. Moving slowly through that differential can kill.

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          Re: Lucky he didn't get seriously injured during ejection.

          The plane might also be undergoing a rapid uncontained thermally driven deconstruction event, another very good reason to leave sharpish.

        2. GBE

          Re: Lucky he didn't get seriously injured during ejection.

          Moving slowly through that differential can kill.

          I certainly didn't mean to imply that there weren't good reasons behind the decision to accept a "high" risk of serious injury. When the alternative is certain death, a broken arm doesn't sound so bad...

          I suppose that depending on the empennage configuration, there might also be a large metal "blade" that continues moving forward towards you at high speed as the air around you works very hard to stop your forward motion. If you do the math, that may not actually be a serious consideration compared to other issues.

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Lucky he didn't get seriously injured during ejection.

      A friend was in the fleet air arm and something broke while flying one day and he ejected at 600kts and only survived because a local fishing boat managed to catch the top of his chute before it went completely under the Med. Quite a lot of him was broken in the incident.

    3. ShadowDragon8685

      Re: Lucky he didn't get seriously injured during ejection.

      Also, if you're pulling the Bang Seat handle, it's presumed that either hostile ordnance is incoming at mach 10 or something and your countermeasures have failed; or that hostile fire has shot the plane up so badly it is going to commence unplanned rapid lithobraking in very short order; or else that some kind of mechanical fault so severe that unplanned rapid lithobraking will commence in short order regardless of incoming fire or not.

      In that case, it's triage medicine: do you want to be fucked-up for the rest of a hopefully long life, or do you want to be perfectly healthy for the rest of a life measured meaningfully in seconds? They tend to err on the side of unassing the plane with as much swiftness as is literally humanly survivable.

  16. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
    Alert

    Preflight briefing?

    My understanding is that before you get to ride in military aircraft, it's customary to have a physical and a preflight briefing, which goes over things that you can expect to happen, and things that you may and may NOT touch. The yellow and black striped handles, and the consequences of pulling them, should most definitely have been discussed.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Preflight briefing?

      And what was he told? If you pull this, you get out of the plane? Might seem like a good idea for somebody enduring an unpleasant and uninvited situation.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Yeah, sure. You try remembering all those details when you're subject to an inverse Immelman you didn't ask for for the first time in your life.

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        I have found that (in gliders, at least) the urge to hurl during negative Gs can be suppressed by tightening the harness as tight as you can stand it, then going a bit further. Once you are "part of the aircraft", the urge is reduced significantly.

        Works on roller coasters, too.

  17. Starace
    Flame

    Must have grabbed on hard

    For obvious reasons the force required is set quite high to stop simple accidents, on the basis that when you really need to pull it you'll be motivated to do it as hard as you can until something happens.

    On another note it's surprisingly easy to snap the steel cables inside the handles when you give them a suitable yank.

    The sad thing with this story is that it's far from the first time someone has had a problem during a joy ride due to a long chain of carelessness, and also not the first time that things could have ended in an even worse way if not for a random event as things went wrong. At least they survived. I bet after the enquiry some were really feeling sorry for themselves.

    1. Mike Moyle Silver badge

      Re: Must have grabbed on hard

      "For obvious reasons the force required is set quite high to stop simple accidents, on the basis that when you really need to pull it you'll be motivated to do it as hard as you can until something happens."

      Well, if he was grabbing it to hold himself down during negative Gs, there's him pulling upwards on the handle, while his mass (and anything he's holding onto) is ALSO being accelerated upward.

      Oopsie.

  18. IGotOut Silver badge
    Coat

    Luckily for the pilot...

    French build quality lived up to it traditional expectations.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Luckily for the pilot...

      It was a MartinBaker ejection seat.

  19. HildyJ Silver badge
    Devil

    French

    Why am I not surprised this happened in France?

    "his [helmet] visor was up, his anti-g pants were not worn properly, his helmet and oxygen mask were both unattached, and his seat straps were not tight enough."

    Or, as the French say, c'est la vie.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: French

      Could be a bit of "get him in the damn plane before he bottles it".

  20. jelabarre59 Silver badge

    Pension-er? Perhaps the first part is meaningful.

    Maybe it was the company he was retiring from trying to save some money on the guy's pension.

  21. Alan W. Rateliff, II

    Accidentally?

    Old man said, "Screw this world. I'm out!"

  22. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Long list of poor judgement

    It's poor judgement to give anyone a present that is not in line with their own needs/wishes/preferences just because you think it would be a fun thing to have (especially, but not solely in retirement)*

    It's poor judgement to let a civilian ( in the broadest sense) anywhere near complex, dangerous and expensive equipment without a full, careful and tested set of safety arrangements.

    It's poor judgement to put someone in a thrilling experience without setting limits.

    It's poor judgement to treat an unusual circumstance as if it's a routine one.

    It's poor judgement to treat an outsider with the same degree of casual disregard you would with someone who knows the ropes and above all...

    It's poor judgement to do a favour in risky locations or circumstances without actually preparing fully from the start - arguably even before it's agreed.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    * Yes that is a personal one. Much of my childhood was being given unwanted gifts by people who thought it was something I ought to want and having to gratefully be thankful for something I hated. Because that was the Polite Thing To Do. Even though it meant that I'd get something even more appalling the following year - while all my friends got fun stuff. Even when they asked me what I wanted they'd only buy stuff they thought I ought to have wanted. And it wasn't even anything particularly outrageous. Ordinary kids' books would have done me - I sometimes suggested books, but I'd get given something dull, worthy and unreadable -or a colouring book at the opposite extreme. And 50 years on I still hold a grudge. </rant>

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: they'd only buy stuff they thought I ought to have wanted

      Bubble bath shaped like a toy.

      Why have they been selling that for maybe sixty years? A cruel birthday/Christmas present.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I suspect that there are easier ways to get rid of back seat drivers ...

  24. Andy Baird

    Not as funny as it sounds

    I remember a 1980 incident at an open house/airshow at Willow Grove Naval Air Station in the US many years ago. A 7-year-old was allowed to sit in the cockpit of a (parked) jet fighter. Unfortunately, the ground crew had not safetied the ejection seat system. When the boy grabbed the wrong handle, he was ejected through the canopy. He did not survive.

    https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2199&dat=19800707&id=HpcyAAAAIBAJ&sjid=gucFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4108,1220581&hl=en

  25. IceC0ld Silver badge

    I don't believe it

    the whole thing reads like the French version of our very own Victor Meldrew in action :o)

    or even, BofH spreading his wings to Terra Francois

  26. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Aerotime Hub

    That website is cancer with all the popups and slidedowns. Thank god for the adblock element hider.

    1. Jim Whitaker

      Re: Aerotime Hub

      I did not notice any? (That would be because I have ad blocking, tracer hiding, pop-up killing extensions loaded.) Killing these things is really satisfying except that you have to turn them off to appreciate them. Odd that.

  27. Mr Dogshit

    Well I hope Martin-Baker gave him a tie.

    P.S. I want some anti-g pants. If they're what I think they are.

  28. The March Hare

    Flight authorisation

    ISTR from my days in the mob that all military flights had to be 1. planned and 2 authorised by the flight commander. There were always mission briefs as well so this looks more than a bit lax - but then again, <Gallic shrug>

  29. Luiz Abdala Bronze badge

    Top gun...

    Lots of us would love to hop in a fighter and possibly pass out in the process, having watched Top Gun and loving fighters in a general sense.

    They found the one guy on the planet that works for a defense contractor that wasn't so much into it. What are the odds?

    On the other hand, no pun intended, this is not the first time a "passenger" used the ejection handle as oh-shit handle. Lore says a new air-boss for a carrier was strapped to the RIO seat of a F-14, the pilot did some "standard maneuvers" that include an aileron roll, and, basically, the pilot's boss grabbed the "NOPE" bar and left him there to land a now-convertible Tomcat back on the carrier.

    The F-14 is not designed to fire both seats upon ejection, IIRC. And, that is a few million dollars worth of airplanes in both cases that were not written off.

  30. Packet

    Serious cock-up that kept getting worse

    The aviation geek part of me both applauds the pilot for landing under such conditions and while there is a visceral thrill in reading this, i do feel bad for the aircraft damage (even though it will get repaired)

    The process oriented side of me is rather stunned to read of the series of cockups - civ pensioner passenger not briefed, not checked for being correctly oriented and strapped in - both resulting in an ejection seat fire (which is a giant fuck me moment at even this best of times not over hostile territory, not having been recently assholed by a SAM), and then the pilot's seat not firing either on top of that.

    Thankfully, said pensioner landed ok (hopefully without breaking anything - untrained first-timer under canopy isn't really safe, and that's not even accounting for the compression forces of ejection - but hey at least he didn't break/lose a limb during the violent ejection process)

    Way to go, French Air Force - you're just begging for jokes to be made (alluding to, you know, the war...)

  31. BebopWeBop Silver badge

    This has got to be one of the best stories in the Reg for a long time! I am still giggling.

  32. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
    Paris Hilton

    Mais oui...

    ...reluctant Frenchman...

    So even he didn't want to be French.

    <Gallic shrug here>

    Paris. Because she's doesn't want to be French either.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The ejection system had one job...

    Will interesting to see the ramifications of the failure.

    That product is probably fitted to a lot of aircraft across the planet.

    And as a safety critical system, the probability of failure should be effectively zero.

    That a modern multi-million pound fighter aircraft wasn't written off as a result of poor reliability, is not mitigation.

  34. Okaterina
    Holmes

    Has the document been read ?

    Page 26, blue border : "L’hypothèse d’une action volontaire sur la poignée d’éjection par le passager est rejetée. "

    Roughly translated - not needed I think :) All the English words in the translation would be very similar to the ones in the french sentence. Apart from Handle. Which I let you handle. Unlike the passenger, who did not handle it.

  35. N2 Silver badge

    perhaps

    It was just before mid-day when all French men enjoy an apero before lunch

    sacre bleu, je suis en retard...

    or something like that

  36. Reliance

    Comedy

    Hollywood comedy writers are busy scribbling.

    It's amazing they didn't think of this before.

    Or maybe they did but somebody thought it was unrealistic...

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Comedy

      My bet is on the latter.

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