US Air Force instructor pilot dies after ejection seat activated while on ground

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A US Air Force instructor pilot has died from injuries sustained after the ejection seat on his aircraft activated while the plane was operating on the ground.

The accident occurred during the morning of May 13, 2024 when the pilot’s T-6A Texan II aircraft ejection seat activated during ground operations at Sheppard Air Force Base near Wichita Falls, Texas.

The pilot has been identified by Sheppard Air Force Base as Captain John Robertson of the 80th Operations Support Squadron.

In a statement released by the Air Force Base, acting wing commander Colonel Mitchell J. Cok said: “This is a devastating loss for Captain Robertson’s family and loved ones, and for the entire 80th Flying Training Wing.” 

“Captain Robertson was a highly valued Airman and instructor pilot. Our deepest condolences go with all who knew and loved him,” Cok added.

Cok also expressed gratitude for those who responded to the incident:

“We are thankful for the M1 maintenance team who immediately provided life-sustaining care, and for the heroic efforts of the security forces, fire and medical personnel here on base and at United Regional Hospital. Their efforts allowed time for Captain Robertson’s family to be at his side when he passed.”

According to Sheppard Air Force Base, an interim safety board investigation was convened immediately following the incident, and a full Air Force Safety Investigation Board is expected to take place. The base has said that the board will release the report once the investigation is complete. 

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a pilot has died due to an ejection seat activating on the ground. 

In 2011, Martin-Baker Aircraft, an ejection seat firm, admitted breaching health and safety laws over the death of a Red Arrows pilot who was ejected unexpectedly from his jet while it was on the ground at RAF Scampton. 

The pilot, an Iraqi war veteran, had been carrying out pre-flight safety checks in his Hawk T1 jet when the seat fired.

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