Inquest jury rules 'accidental death' on navigator fall

Mike Harland
Image caption Mike Harland died in the incident over Norfolk on 14 November 2007

The death of a navigator who fell from an RAF Tornado was accidental, an inquest jury has ruled.

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

The inquest in Norwich heard his seat slipped and Mr Harland fell from the aircraft as the jet was flying upside down at 6,000ft.

Speaking afterwards, his widow, Helen, said she was confident that aircraft servicing procedures had improved.

Mr Harland, from Colsterworth, Lincolnshire, was helping test the two-seater fighter jet after new parachutes were fitted.

Coroner Jacqueline Lake told jurors that accident investigators had concluded that a locking device which prevented an ejector seat from slipping when a jet is flying upside-down had not been properly fitted.

But RAF technicians who fitted and checked the seat at Marham said it had been correctly installed.

Mrs Lake said: "There is a clear conflict of evidence in this respect."

A senior RAF technician suggested that a spring inside the device might have broken, but experts who conducted an investigation said that scenario was "very unlikely".

'Safeguard against tragedy'

A family spokeswoman said after the hearing: "She (Mrs Harland) is confident that all the proper inquiries have been made and that the finding of the subsequent (RAF) Board of Inquiry has been significant in improving the procedures in servicing aircraft.

"Hopefully, as a result of the findings of the coroner and Board of Inquiry, they will safeguard against a repetition of such a tragedy."

Jurors were told Mr Harland's seat had slipped, causing his cockpit canopy to automatically shatter.

He had fallen, still strapped to the seat and then been hit by the tail of the plane.

He suffered multiple injuries and his body was found in a field near South Creake.

The plane was landed safely at Marham by Mark Williams, 50, a former RAF pilot who works for BAE Systems and lives near Grantham, Lincolnshire. He was not hurt.

Mrs Lake said she would not make any recommendations because "any concerns" had been or were being dealt with.

Jurors were told that police had investigated but no one had been charged with any offence.

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