Hundreds honour popular Red Arrows pilot

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Hundreds of mourners yesterday paid their respects to an “enormously popular” Red Arrows pilot who died after being ejected from his jet at the team’s base.

The family of Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham, the second Red Arrows pilot killed in less than three months, were joined by comrades and friends of the 35-year-old for his funeral at Coventry Cathedral.

During the hour-long service, Flight Lieutenant Cunningham was described by the Red Arrows’ commanding officer as a “charming, professional and dedicated” pilot who had touched the lives of many people.

Flt Lt Cunningham died in hospital after an incident in which he was ejected from his Hawk T1 aircraft on the ground at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire on November 8.

Tributes to the South African-born serviceman, who attended Coventry’s Ernesford Grange School, were led by Squadron Leader Jim Turner, the officer commanding the RAF’s aerobatic team.

Sqn Ldr Turner told mourners that Flt Lt Cunningham had fulfilled his dream of being selected to fly with the Red Arrows in 2010 after flying operational sorties in Iraq.

Describing his colleague as fun-loving and laid-back, Sqn Ldr Turner told the service: “Sean was a man who accomplished great things in his 35 years.

“Flying with the Red Arrows represented for Sean, as it does for all of us lucky enough to tread this hallowed path, the pinnacle of his flying career.

“His love of the job was obvious to see - his sense of excitement would grow as the time approached to go flying.”

Sqn Ldr Turner said: “On that fateful day at RAF Scampton on the 8th of November, Sean was quite literally buzzing with excitement at the prospect of flying to RAF Valley for an overnight stay with the rest of his formation of five aircraft ... to do some great flying and catch up with old friends.

“Sean touched the lives of so many people and made an indelible impression on the team.”

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