Have you ever been so excited that you ejected yourself from a fighter jet in mid-air? No? In a nutshell, that is what happened to a 64-year-old Frenchman — hereafter to be known as the Flying Frenchman because his name has not publicly been released — in March 2019. Needless to say, France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety conducted an investigation into the whole incident, the results of which have now been released (in French). SPOILER ALERT: He survived.
Just Another Workplace Celebration
The Flying Frenchman — himself a defense company executive — was gifted a fighter jet joyride by employees in his firm. It’s an extravagant and swell idea for the right person. There’s no explanation why the staff thought he was the right person, though.
The Flying Frenchman had not, apparently, ever flown in a military plane, served in the military, or indicated any desire to fly in a Dassault Aviation’s twin-engine, canard delta wing, multirole fighter jet.
The Flying Frenchman and his cohort of Co-workers arrived at Frace’s Saint-Dizier airforce base. Thanks to a smartwatch on the Flying Frenchman’s wrist, we now know that his heart was beating between 136 and 142 times per minute. The report states he was, even before the flight, “in full tachycardia.” According to the Mayo Clinic, the normal heart rate for an adult male is somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Tachycardia seems a reasonable response, all things considered. The Flying Frenchman may not have known this, but the Dassault Rafale B fighter jet that he was about to climb into had a maximum speed of nearly 870 mph.
No, Not Just Another Workplace Celebration At All
The power of the Dassault Rafale B’s takeoff that generated 3.7G of force caused the Flying Frenchman to float off of his seat. He apparently panicked and reached for something to hold onto in terror. The design specs for the Dassault Rafale B may not include grips like those built into the doorframe of your mini-van that your passengers grab onto while taking a sharp turn at something-less-than-870mph. So what was our Flying Frenchman to grab hold of?
There was probably never any good answer to that question. But the Flying Frenchman actually chose just about the worst possible option. He reached out and grabbed or hit the ejector seat button.
The. Ejector. Seat. Button.
Is It A Bird? A Plane? No! It’s A Highly Stressed French Defense Executive.
As the name of the button implies, the Flying Frenchman was ejected from the plane while flying 1,400 feet above ground at over 320 mph. To make matters worse, his helmet was not attached properly, so it also went flying in an entirely different direction while the Flying Frenchman was in mid-air.
The good news? Our Flying Frenchman’s parachute system (the real parachute, not parachute pants) was apparently attached properly. We know this because the Flying Frenchman successfully parachuted to ground near the German border. By the sheer luck of an apparent malfunction, the ejector seat button pressed by the Flying Frenchman did not affect the pilot. The pilot remained on board and in control and landed the plane safely. The pilot suffered just a few facial scratches and — we’ve got a hunch — a somewhat heightened heart rate of their own.
Errors Were Made
An investigation by French aviation authorities revealed several issues that led to the incident: Medical indications that the Flying Frenchman could not handle the 3.7G of force that would be imposed on takeoff were ignored, the Flying Frenchman’s seat straps were attached loosely, and his helmet was improperly secured.
Additional investigations are ongoing, these ones by the defense and judicial authorities. No word on what steps the employer has taken to deal with the incident. Will there be new policies and procedures for workplace gifts and celebrations?
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