An unplanned, accidental ejection of some or all crew members of a Tupolev Tu-22M3 supersonic jet bomber killed three and injured one person earlier this week. The Aviationist provides this report, translated from Russian.
In preparation for the training flight, after launching the APU and working with the cockpit equipment, Captain, who is the deputy squadron commander, switched on all CB (Circuit Breakers) on the CB panel with the lever of the console.
At the same time, the system of forced departure of the crew was triggered according to the standard scheme (the commander of the aircraft leaves the plane on his own). When the forced exit system was triggered, four canopy door were dropped and three crew members were ejected. The mechanisms of the ejection seats worked normally, the separation of the crew members and the launching of the rescue parachutes took place normally, but due to the lack of conditions for safely leaving the aircraft (speed less than 130 km / h), the parachutes were not filled.
Three crew members were fatally injured when they fell onto the concrete surface of the aircraft parking lot at high vertical speed.
There's more at the link. It's not yet known whether the aircraft commander accidentally activated the ejection sequence, or whether a malfunction triggered the ejection.
The Drive provides additional information.
The crew of four in the Tu-22M3 consists of two pilots seated side-by-side in front, with the navigator and weapons system officer seated behind them. All the crew members are provided with KT-1M ejection seats and the aircraft commander is also able to initiate the ejection sequence for the other crew members — according to Interfax, this was the case in today’s incident. However, these seats require a minimum speed of 80 miles per hour for safe ejection at altitudes below 200 feet. The Tu-22M3 has a typical takeoff speed of 230 miles per hour.
This would be in line with the aforementioned reports suggesting the ejections occurred after the engines had started but while the bomber was stationary. Even if the aircraft were taxiing, it would not have been moving fast enough to ensure the safe extraction of the crew. Modern combat aircraft are typically fitted with “zero-zero” ejection seats, which have no minimum speed or altitude criteria for safe use.
Again, more at the link.
The Tu-22 has been heavily modernized and updated since its introduction into service in the 1970's. Sadly, it appears its ejection seats were not upgraded to the latest standards as part of that.