Less than a month after retired Major League Baseball all-star pitcher Roy Halladay celebrated the delivery of his Icon A5, the sheriff in Pasco County, Florida, confirmed the tragic news Nov. 7 that Halladay had been killed in a crash, flying solo in his new airplane.
Halladay’s A5 was found inverted in 6 feet of water, about a quarter-mile from the Gulf of Mexico shoreline near his home, just north of Tampa, Florida.
The NTSB is investigating the Halladay crash, and Icon officials said the accident airplane was equipped with an electronic flight data recorder and that the NTSB has possession of it.
TMZ Sports posted amateur video on its website that appears to show Halladay maneuvering aggressively at extremely low altitude immediately prior to the crash. The video shows the A5 in a steep, descending turn, then leveling off a few feet above the water while onlookers express surprise at the airplane’s actions. Later, the video shows the aircraft wreckage in detail. (Warning, video contains adult language and graphic scenes.)
While Halladay was well-known among baseball fans, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, who held a news conference Nov. 7 to deliver the sad news, said the 40-year-old professional baseball retiree was a personal friend of the department who had donated a K-9 and “coached our baseball teams.”
“We know Roy as a person, as a caring husband who loved his wife, Brandy. He loved his two boys tremendously,” Nocco said. “I can tell you when he spoke of his family, he spoke with pride.”
Halladay died in the second fatal accident involving an Icon A5, following a May 8 crash that claimed the lives of aircraft designer Jon Karkow and fellow Icon staffer Cagri Sever. The NTSB determined in August that that accident took place after Karkow mistakenly turned into the wrong steep-sided canyon, not realizing there would be no room to escape.
The spin-resistant, amphibious light sport A5 was announced in 2008 with fanfare, but has had a sometimes difficult history aside from actual flying, marked by production delays and a unique approach to the aircraft business. The company’s original purchase contract proved controversial for including terms that limited both airframe life and the rights of owners, and some of those terms were subsequently revised. More recently, Icon announced a steep price increase for the A5.
The California startup has long marketed the A5 as an airplane made for fun, and requires all customers to complete training with approved instructors before taking delivery of an A5.
Halladay posted on Twitter Oct. 31: “I keep telling my dad that flying the Icon A5 low over the water is like flying a fighter jet.”
Some commentators on aviation message boards blamed Icon for the Halladay crash saying the company’s marketing and promotional videos promote risky, low-altitude flying. Icon has rejected that criticism saying it is trying to enlarge aviation by appealing to a larger, more youthful “power sports” market. The curriculum at its schools emphasizes the inherent hazards of flying close to the ground and seeks to build a “safety culture” among Icon pilots.
The company had on Oct. 17 announced new guidelines for low-altitude flying, introduced with a message from company founder and CEO Kirk Hawkins.
“There is little formal training required by the FAA or provided by traditional transportation-focused aviation training programs to adequately prepare you for low altitude flying. Given this, our goal is to take a proactive, leadership role in the flight training process and we have developed our own low altitude guidelines from lessons learned over decades of military, seaplane, and bush flying,” Hawkins wrote. “In addition to incorporating these guidelines into our current training programs, we will also be developing advanced low-altitude training courses for those who want even more skills in this unique environment.”
A brief statement was issued by a company spokesperson on Nov. 7:
“We were devastated to learn that former MLB pitcher Roy Halladay died today in an accident involving an ICON A5 in the Gulf of Mexico. We have gotten to know Roy and his family in recent months, and he was a great advocate and friend of ours. The entire ICON community would like to pass on our deepest condolences to Roy’s family and friends. ICON will do everything it can to support the accident investigation going forward and we will comment further when more information is available.”