Part of the Rafale fleet of the French Air Force is currently grounded as a precautionary measure while the reasons behind the incident that took place on March 21, 2019 are being investigated.
On March 20, 2019, a civilian passenger was accidentally ejected from a twin-seat Rafale B fighter jet as the aircraft was taking off for an “observation” flight”.
The grounding was confirmed by a spokesperson of the Air Force quoted by French media Le Journal de l’Aviation. While training is suspended, operational flights are, however, not affected. The grounding was ordered to give time to ” clarify certain aspects and lift certain interrogations”.
Despite the Rafale ejection seat, the Martin Baker Mk-F16F, being of the “zero-zero” type (meaning it can safely be used from a stationary “zero airspeed zero altitude” position), the passenger whose identity remains unknown injured his back when he fell on the runway. This could be attributed to a lack of preparation.
As for the pilot, he managed to land shortly after the incident. His hands were slightly injured by broken glass from the canopy.
The three investigations, including one from the French investigation bureau for State aviation safety (BEA-E) and one from the Gendarmerie de l’Air, are still ongoing to determine if the ejection seat was triggered voluntarily, involuntarily or following a malfunction. This incident is the first accidental ejection from a Rafale.