This is one of the wildest stories I’ve ever heard of. Then again, this is CNN’s disaster-a-minute-for-ratings kind of reporting.


A group of French co-workers organizes a ride for a 64 year old fellow worker in a Dassault Rafale jet fighter wherein the man panics during flight and pulls the ejection handle, bailing out mid flight and landing in a field near the German border.

I stare completely baffled at this as to

  1. How these people managed to convince the French Air Force to let this man ride back seat in a jet fighter
  2. without any kind of familiarization or ejection seat training and
  3. Nobody noticed the guy’s level of discomfort during pre-flight taxi or even takeoff?

Was there any in-depth investigation to the incident and if so, what was determined to be the root cause(s)?

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    $\begingroup$ Things happen all the time man, It's just part of life. $\endgroup$ – Air Canada 001 Apr 13 '20 at 18:07
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Well he had enough training to know how to fire the seat eh? $\endgroup$ – John K Apr 13 '20 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ I guess he just panicked and grabbed anything that he could in the cockpit to hold onto! I never knew it was that easy to get a ride in a Rafale! $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Apr 13 '20 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ Well you have to reach down to a pair of handles at the bottom of the seat, pull in trigger levers, then pull the handles up to fire it. It's definitely a deliberate action. $\endgroup$ – John K Apr 13 '20 at 20:16
  • $\begingroup$ aviation.stackexchange.com/q/61499/1467 $\endgroup$ – Federico Apr 15 '20 at 8:25

Here are a few key points translated from the media coverage on the official BEA report (PDF, in French):

  • The passenger was a 64 years old manager of a shipping company.
  • The French Air Force carries out such passenger flights occasionally.
  • The passenger wore a pulse watch which recorded between 136bpm and 142bpm prior to the flight, safe to say the man was under a lot of stress.
  • The report states that the situation produced significant peer pressure on the passenger: A significant number of colleagues from work, who had organized the event, were present.
  • In order to max the element of surprise, the passenger passed the required medical exam the same day. (As a consequence of this accident, there is now a 10 day mandatory delay between the exam and the actual flight.)
  • The physician issued the medical certificate under the condition that the flight must not exceed 3G. This information, however, did not reach the pilot due to what the report calls a "technical problem". (This type of aircraft reaches close to 4G during a normal takeoff.)
  • The passenger wasn't correctly equipped: The anti-G trousers as well as the chinstrap were too loose, the helmet visor folded up. The passenger lost his helmet mid air after the ejection.
  • The passenger ejected in a phase of the takeoff with negative G forces.

Most likely, the passenger was under an extraordinary amount of stress and tried to hold onto something in negative G, unfortunately the eject cord.

There's, however, another not so fun fact:

The pilot should have been ejected automatically along with the passenger. This mechanism failed! The pilot could have ejected himself nonetheless, but chose not to. It was due to this technical malfunction that the French Air Force didn't lose such an expensive machine.

(sources: Le Point, BFM TV)

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting, can you add a link to the BEA report? $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Apr 13 '20 at 19:53
  • $\begingroup$ I looked for it in the BEA database, but it is not (yet?) listed for 2019-03-20, the date of the accident. $\endgroup$ – svoop Apr 13 '20 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ Found it, added the link. $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Apr 13 '20 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ @CarloFelicione, I didn't say it does not remain hot. I said it can be deliberately set so that pulling the ejection handle does not eject the other as well (as it normally does in case the other crew member is incapacitated). $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Apr 15 '20 at 7:02
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    $\begingroup$ @JanHudec The "sélecteur de séquence" (sequence selector) controls whether both seats eject or not, it can be set to either TWO or SOLO. In this case, it was on position TWO, however, the line from the selector to the front seat pyro was disconnected, ripped out of its casing (see image on page 26 of the BEA PDF linked above). $\endgroup$ – svoop Apr 15 '20 at 12:50

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