09/01/2014 11:06 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 16:01 GMT

Inquest Into Red Arrows Pilot Sean Cunningham Examines Effects Of Night Nurse

A Red Arrows aerial display team pilot who died after he was ejected from his cockpit had used Night Nurse the evening before his death, an inquest has heard.

Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham, 35, was a highly-regarded and experienced pilot with the RAF's aerial display team but was fatally injured after being ejected from his Hawk T1 aircraft while on the ground at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, on November 8, 2011.

The parachute on the ejector seat did not deploy and the South African-born airman, who was also an Iraq war veteran, later died in hospital.


red arrows pilot

Sean Cunningham was a highly-regarded pilot

During the first day of the inquest into his death Central Lincolnshire Coroner Stuart Fisher read the findings of a post mortem exam report to the hearing.

He said tests showed Flt Lt Cunningham had used Night Nurse, which includes the ingredient promethazine, the evening before the incident and, according to the report, the medication could cause some sedation and impair performance in pilots.

"It is conceivable that side effects of this medication can include drowsiness, blurred vision, disorientation or poor concentration, and could have been responsible for a degree of cognitive impairment, but there is no way of proving this with certainty," the inquest heard.

However, in written evidence to the inquest another doctor reported it was very unlikely that any sedative effect had remained the following morning.

"It's highly unlikely that the dose of Night Nurse taken on the evening of the 7th of November had any effects on the deceased's ability to fly a plane at 11 o'clock the following morning."

Some of Flt Lt Cunningham's team-mates who were with him on the day of the incident told the inquest that he had appeared "chirpy" and "jovial" on the morning of November 8 and did not appear to be unwell or in an altered mood.

They had been preparing to fly in formation from RAF Scampton to RAF Valley in Wales when they heard a loud bang.

Flt Lt James McMillan said he was sitting in his aircraft and close to finishing his pre-flight checks, as was Flt Lt Cunningham who he could see from where he was positioned.

"I just heard what to me seemed like an enormous bang very, very close," he told the inquest.

"The first thing I thought was that there was something wrong with my aircraft because it was so close to me and I could feel it."

Flt Lt Cunningham was seen "windmilling" his arms in the air before hitting the ground while still strapped to his ejector seat.

The inquest heard that he fell from around 200 to 300ft. His cause of death was found to be from multiple injuries due to a fall from height following ejection from an aircraft.

Following the incident, the RAF grounded all non-essential flying of aircraft fitted with the Mk10 Martin Baker-built ejector seat "as a precaution", but flights later resumed in December 2011, with air chiefs saying they had "no remaining safety concerns".

Lincolnshire Police handed over a file concerning Flt Lt Cunningham's death, but the Crown Prosecution Service subsequently said no charges would be brought in relation to the incident.

Evidence from around 70 witnesses is expected during the inquiry, which is scheduled to last around three weeks.

The inquest continues.