On 1 July 1987, a Lightning pilot out of Akrotiri was flying an air firing sortie on a target banner towed by a Canberra. During the breakaway manoeuvre after a firing pass on the banner, Flt Lt 'Charlie' Chan saw a black circular object detach from the banner spreader bar. The object hit the aircraft. There was a loud bang and indications of a seizure of the No 1 engine. The pilot shut down the engine and turned towards Akrotiri; during the recovery the pilot noted an abnormally high temperature on the No 2 engine. A higher and faster than normal approach was flown with the undercarriage and flaps retracted.
At about 2½ miles from the airfield the engine began to lose thrust. When the pilot applied full power, the JPT rose to 900°C (the normal maximum allowable JPT is 795°C). The aircraft continued to lose speed and at approximately 250 feet and 150 kts the pilot ejected. XR763 AP impacted in a vineyard close to some houses and exploded in a fireball. The upper wheel from the spreader bar had been ingested by the No 1 engine which seized almost instantaneously; debris damage to the No 2 engine resulted in its progressive disintegration
The pilot's ejection was successful and he was uninjured. However, the subsequent examination of the ejection seat revealed that the leg restraint cords, from the snubber to cone, were of markedly different lengths. Further examination revealed that the shear block on the right restraint line had sheared correctly but that the left shear block was complete, with no evidence of damage. On the cockpit floor, the right hand pin and anchorage bracket contained the sheared portion of the block as would be expected, but it was clear that the left shear block had not been connected to its anchorage bracket.
This meant that the pilot's right leg had not been restrained during the ejection sequence. This was borne out by witness marks on his right flying boot, which showed contact with the instrument panel. Fortunately, the pilot's ejection occurred at slow speed.
HAD HE EJECTED AT A MUCH HIGHER FORWARD SPEED, THEN IT IS HIGHLY LIKELY THAT HE WOULD HAVE BEEN BADLY INJURED THROUGH FLAILING OF HIS RIGHT LEG.
WHY WAS THE LEFT LEG-RESTRAINT SHEAR BLOCK DISCONNECTED FROM ITS ANCHOR BLOCK?
An intensive investigation conducted by the parent Unit showed that the ejection seat had been fitted towards the end of a Check 3 servicing some 3 months prior to the accident and had been subjected to all the normal vital and independent checks. Additional checks had been conducted prior to the post servicing air test, so a total of 5 checks for correct assembly were made by known meticulous armament tradesmen. It is therefore most unlikely that the leg restraint system was incorrectly fitted when the aircraft left ASF to rejoin the Squadron.
After the Check 3 servicing, the aircraft flew 45 sorties, with 14 different pilots, and had a minimum of 77 flight servicing carried out by numerous tradesmen prior to the accident. During this period, there was no record of the roller fitting being disconnected, although it is feasible that a tradesman could have disconnected it to ease access to adjacent components, or to recover a loose article which had become lodged in the cut-out of the floor panel to the rear of the floor bracket.
If either happened, then the proper action would have been to place the aircraft unserviceable on a F707A and to seek the assistance of an armament tradesman to remove the pin and roller fitting. This would have been subsequently followed by the refitting of the roller fitting and pin along with the associated vital and independent checks by armament tradesmen. This could be viewed, during a period of pressure to get an aircraft serviceable, as a loss of time and a lot of paperwork to complete what is a simple task for a tradesmen already upside down in a cockpit. In such a situation, was there a temptation to remove the pin and roller fitting, carry out the primary task and refit the roller fitting and pin himself?
If so, and if it was refitted incorrectly or forgotten, it would have not been readily discovered. There is no requirement during a flight servicing or a pilot's seat checks to pull the leg restraint cords through the snubbing units to their limit. Hence the difference in free length that would occur, between 4" and 12" depending on seat height, would go unnoticed. The investigation concluded that, as the ejection seat had been checked 5 times after fitment prior to the aircraft returning to the Squadron, it was most unlikely that the leg restraint had not been fitted correctly. It would seem, therefore, that the roller had been disconnected from the floor bracket as the result of a malpractice by an unknown person.
The fin, which was recovered almost intact from the wreckage, was later erected in the grounds of a bar used by Service personnel. One side has been left with the 5 Sqn markings and code, but the other shows an extremely pneumatic young lady with her top almost pulled up over her natural assets. Damage to the fin can still be seen on the leading and trailing edges and on the starboard side immediately in front of the AP markings.