A French defence worker’s surprise retirement gift has gone terrifyingly wrong, with the panicked man ejecting himself from a fighter jet more than 2500 feet above the ground.
The accident happened after fellow employees at the 64-year-old Frenchman’s company got him a joyride in a Dassault Rafale B jet to mark his retirement.
But the surprise gift fell very flat, with the unnamed man being incredibly stressed, rather than delighted, when he arrived at the Saint-Dizier air base in north-eastern France in March 2019 and learned what he was in for.
Air safety investigators later said the man had never expressed a desire to fly in a fighter jet and had no previous military aviation experience.
Thanks to a watch he was wearing that could measure his heart rate, investigators found the man’s “heart was in full tachycardia” before the flight, with a recorded rate ranging from 136 to 142 beats per minute.
Nonetheless, apparently “feeling social pressure”, he went ahead with the ride – joining a three-plane training exercise as a passenger in the Rafale B. The French air force jet has a maximum speed of nearly 1400km/h.
The investigators said the man got into the rear of the plane’s two seats. Safety checks were a bit lacklustre, and he adjusted his own gear – when they took off, his helmet and oxygen mask were not attached, his visor was up, and his seat straps were loose.
Panic set in as the plane levelled out at 2500 feet. The “insufficiently strapped and totally surprised passenger” panicked, and reached for something to hold to – unfortunately finding the ejector seat button.
The pilot’s canopy shattered and he flew from the plane, losing his mask and helmet in the process. Fortunately, the man’s parachute opened and he managed to land in a field near the German border, avoiding serious injuries.
Investigators concluded that the accident was caused by an involuntary reflex, prompted by stress and the jet’s sudden movement.
The pilot, who was not ejected, managed to land the plane safely. He suffered some minor facial injuries from the shattered canopy.
His stressed passenger, meanwhile, was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment and to recover.