Navigator’s widow “confident” tragedy could not happen again

Navigator's widow 'confident' tragedy could not happen again

The widow of a man who fell from a plane as it flew upside down said she was 'confident' that changes to RAF aircraft servicing procedures since the accident ensured it could never happen again.

Former RAF flyer Mike Harland, 44, died after his seat slipped from an RAF Tornado as a test pilot flew at around 450mph about 5,000 miles above Norfolk on November 14, 2007.

Norfolk deputy coroner Jacqueline Lake said today there was a 'conflict of evidence' about the cause of the accident, as a jury recorded an accidental death verdict following an inquest at Sprowston Manor Hotel, near Norwich.

But Mr Harland's widow, Helen, said she hoped the findings of the coroner and a separate RAF inquiry would 'safeguard against the repetition of such a 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.'

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Father-of-two Mr Harland, who worked as a civilian navigator for manufacturer BAE Systems, which services Tornados based at RAF Marham, had flown from the airbase with test pilot Mark Williams after the two-seater Tornado GR4 had undergone a lengthy service and been fitted with new parachutes.

Jurors were told that Mr Harland's seat had slipped, causing his cockpit canopy to automatically shatter. He had fallen, still strapped to the seat, then been hit by the tail of the plane.

Mr Harland, from Colsterworth, near Grantham in Lincolnshire, suffered multiple injuries and his body was found in a field near South Creake in north Norfolk.

Mrs Lake told jurors that accident investigators had concluded that a locking device which prevented an ejection seat from slipping when a jet was flying upside down had not been properly fitted.

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

Mrs Lake told the inquest: 'There is a clear conflict of evidence in this respect.'