Red Arrows pilot tells inquest of ‘eternal regret’ that he couldn’t eject engineer from his plane before it crashed

  • Corporal Jonathan Bayliss, 41, died at RAF Valley in Anglesey on March 20, 2018
  • Pilot Flight Lieutenant David Stark survived after ejecting moments earlier
  • Investigation found the plane stalled and crashed during training manoeuvre
  • Flt Lt Stark spoke of his ‘eternal regret’ that Cpl Bayliss died in the incident 

A Red Arrows pilot has told an inquest of his ‘eternal regret’ that he was not able to eject an engineer from his plane before it crashed.

Corporal Jonathan Bayliss, 41, was killed by smoke inhalation in the fireball after the Hawk T1 jet crashed into the runway at RAF Valley in Anglesey, North Wales, on March 20 2018. 

The pilot, Flight Lieutenant David Stark, survived after ejecting moments earlier.

A Service Inquiry Panel (SIP) investigation found the plane had stalled and crashed during a training manoeuvre designed to simulate an engine failure.  

Giving evidence at an inquest in Caernarfon on Wednesday, Flt Lt Stark said he had not realised the plane was stalling, and it was his ‘eternal regret’ that he could not have pulled Cpl Bayliss out with the command ejection system. 

Corporal Jonathan Bayliss, 41, was killed by smoke inhalation in the fireball after the Hawk T1 jet crashed into the runway at RAF Valley in Anglesey, North Wales, on March 20 2018. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant David Stark (circled), survived after ejecting moments earlier


Giving evidence at an inquest in Caernarfon on Wednesday, Flt Lt Stark (left) said he had not realised the plane was stalling. A family statement described Cpl Bayliss (right) as a ‘gentle giant’ with a ‘dry sense of humour’ who never failed to make people smile

He said: ‘I quite clearly did not perceive the situation that was developing until the point at which it was as though there was the flick of a switch from ”This is OK” to ”This is absolutely categorically not OK and something needs to be done”.’

‘S*** HAPPENS’: RAF AIRMAN’S TRAGIC NOTE TO HIS FAMILY 

An RAF airman killed in a Red Arrows crash tragedy left a note to his family saying: ‘Oh well, sh*t happens,’ an inquest heard.

Corporal Jonathan Bayliss, 41, left the funny final note for his family on his will – not realising he would died in the air crash.

A family statement described Cpl Bayliss as a ‘gentle giant’ with a ‘dry senseof humour’ who never failed to make people smile.

Coroner Kate Saunders read out a note written by him which was attached to his will and read: ‘Oh well, sh*t happens, don’t spend too

much time crying about me, get on with your lives because I’ve had a good one.’

Red Arrows engineer Cpl Bayliss was killed by smoke inhalation in the fireball after a training exercise went wrong. 

The inquest in Caernarfon continues

The inquest was told Corporal Bayliss left a note to his family saying ‘Oh well, sh** happens’ for his family in his will, not realising he would die in the air crash.

A family statement described Cpl Bayliss as a ‘gentle giant’ with a ‘dry sense of humour’ who never failed to make people smile.

Coroner Kate Saunders read out a note written by him which was attached to his will and read: ‘Oh well, sh** happens, don’t spend too much time crying about me, get on with your lives because I’ve had a good one.’

The inquest has heard that the systems in the jet did not allow the pilot in the front seat to control the ejection of the rear seat passenger.

Flt Lt Stark said: ‘It is obviously my eternal regret that the command ejection system is not operated the other way round, in that if I had pulled the handle I could have taken Jon out as well.’

He told the inquest he did not give the usual command of ‘Eject, eject, eject’.

He said: ‘My recollection is that the flick of a switch happened and that I recognised that we needed to eject immediately.

‘I recall saying a swearword and then ”Eject”.

‘I didn’t say ”Eject” more than once, from what I can remember. I think my instinct at the time, and I think this has effectively been confirmed in the report, is that if I’d said ”Eject” twice I probably wouldn’t have survived.

‘I take no pride in having survived. All I can describe is I perceived that the aircraft was going to crash and, to a degree, instinct took over.’

Starting his evidence on the second day of the inquest, Flt Lt Stark appeared emotional as he offered his condolences to the family of Corporal Bayliss and his partner, Jemma Pidgeon.

He said: ‘I’d like to take the opportunity to express my profound sorrow at the loss of Jon and the impact it has had on his family, Miss Pidgeon and his friends.

‘I hope that this process will enable them to get some answers to what I imagine are many questions relating to the accident.’

Flt Lt Stark, who was wearing an RAF uniform with a poppy pinned to his jacket, said he was knocked unconscious after ejecting from the plane and fractured his right femur.

Pictured is the Red Arrows Hawk, with Jonathan Bayliss and David Stark inside, preparing to take off at RAF Valley in north Wales

He told the inquest he had resumed flying in the last three months for the first time since the accident.

The SIP report found his routine did not include ‘sufficient time for rest’, which was a contributory factor in the crash.

Flt Lt Stark told the inquest: ‘I don’t think it’s possible to conduct winter training with the Red Arrows without it fatiguing you.’

But he said it was a ‘baseline’ of fatigue and he was not concerned that it would affect his performance.

Corporal Bayliss, who was born in Dartford, Kent, joined the RAF in 2001 and in early 2018 was promoted to the Circus team, a small group of highly trained engineers who travel with the Red Arrows and provide technical support away from its base. 

An investigation found that Flt Lt Stark was ‘almost certainly fatigued and distracted’ during the tragedy in March 2018.

The investigation found that a training manoeuvre designed to simulate an engine failure was being carried out when the aircraft stalled and crashed because it was flying too low to recover.

A post-mortem examination showed Cpl Bayliss’s cause of death was smoke inhalation and a low-grade head injury.  

The inquest heard that the Ministry of Defence may have breached the Human Rights Act by failing to protect Mr Bayliss’ life.

The RAF engineer’s family claim there was a ‘systemic failure’ by the MoD which led the the incident in which the engineer was killed.

Ms Sutherland, acting senior coroner for north-west Wales, said she would decide at the end of the four-day hearing whether she needed to send a notice to the MoD urging them to take action to prevent similar deaths in the future.

The inquest in Caernarfon continues.

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