A 64-year-old man agreed to accept a gift from colleagues of a surprise flight in a military jet, only to accidentally eject himself from the aircraft as it hurtled through the sky at 2,500ft.
The defence company executive was said to have screamed with fear during the ordeal but escaped injury after his colleagues arranged the flight despite the fact he had never expressed any desire to travel in a fighter jet.
According to an official accident report released by French investigators, the unidentified citizen triggered the ejector seat handle after he grabbed it to “steady himself” while the plane travelled at around 320mph.
The need to keep the gift a surprise had “hugely risky consequences” for the flight in the Dassault Rafale B aircraft, which took off from Saint-Dizier airforce base in north-west France, because it gave the man little time to prepare, the report said.
“This situation generated a feeling of stress for the passenger, and this was felt especially during the ejector seat briefing where he had to assimilate a large amount of information in a very short time,” the report stated.
It added that “the stress of surprise has been magnified by the complete lack of military aviation experience”.
The man “said he had a complete lack of knowledge of the aeronautical environment and its constraints, having never flown on a military aircraft”.
The report identified a catalogue of mistakes ahead of the accident.
Medical advice had suggested he should not have had to endure the 3.7g of force during the take-off, during which his loosely fitted seat straps allowed him to “float up” – causing him to involuntarily grab the ejector seat handle.
Investigators also noted the “right air bellows of (his) anti-G pants (were) not closed”, indicating the special trousers he had been given had not been properly inflated as they should be.
But the man appeared to have been physically unharmed by the incident, having landed softly in a field near the German border after his parachute deployed. The plane also landed safely.
Investigations into the accident are reportedly ongoing.
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