A pensioner who was given a surprise flight in a £70 million ($126m) fighter jet as a retirement present was flung out at 2500 feet after grabbing the ejector seat handle to "steady himself".
The drama is outlined in a newly released report by French aviation investigators which at times reads like a dark comedy script, as it describes how the unidentified 64-year-old panicked during his first flight in the Rafale-B.
Then he shot out at high speed, losing his helmet that had not been fastened around his chin properly, before landing in a field close to the German border.
His anti-g force suit, worn by aviators who are subject to high acceleration forces and designed to prevent a blackout, had also become loose.
It was only through good fortune that the pilot was not ejected by his passenger's actions, so ensuring a certain crash.
The pensioner had "never expressed a desire to take part in a flight like this, and especially not in a Rafale," reads the report by the Paris-based BEA (Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis).
Despite this, his colleagues at the defence contractor where he had worked, set up the flight at the Saint-Dizier airforce base, in north-west France.
"The need to keep the surprise until the moment of the flight," had hugely risky consequences, especially as regards "preparation for the flight," reads the report.
It continues: "This situation generated a feeling of stress for the passenger, and this was particularly felt during the ejection seat briefing where he had to assimilate a large amount of information in a very short time.
"The passenger said he had a complete lack of knowledge of the aeronautical environment and its constraints, having never flown on a military aircraft."
The 35-year-old captain on the flight, which took off on a sunny afternoon on March 20 last year, had 2000 flying hours behind him.
This included 905 in a Rafale, but he was used to having a military comrade in the back seat of the two-seater jet.
Four of the pensioner's colleagues had turned up with a professional photographer, and they placed a Go-Pro camera on their friend's helmet.
"Faced with a fait accompli on the day of the flight, it was very difficult for him to refuse to participate in the flight," says the report.
The flight had also been authorised by the French Air Force staff at the request of the Defence Ministry, which also piled pressure on the pensioner who was "considered a VIP".
Analysis of radio recordings show that "the pilot was in control of the situation. Once informed that his passenger had ejected, the pilot realises that he should have been ejected too.
"He then demonstrated a certain calm to pilot following the loss of the rear seat and the canopy."
The pensioner, meanwhile, had expected a gentle ascent, but the plane "climbed at 47 degrees", compared to around 10 to 15 degrees for a standard passenger plane.
This was when the Frenchman reached out to hang on to anything to steady himself and pulled the ejector handle.
There was a loud bang, with the force of the ejection tearing his unsecured mask and oxygen mask away.
The Rafele-B's command ejection system is meant to fire both seats at once – meaning the pilot feared his seat would fly out at any moment.
Instead he managed to land, while the pensioner's parachute worked, and he arrived in a field, shocked and with minor injuries.
The report calls on the Airforce and Defence Ministry to review its procedures for allowing civilians on military flights.