Halladay crash sadly will likely pose challenging questions for NTSB

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MLB Pitcher Roy Halladay Killed in Icon A5 Amphibious Airplane Crash



Roy Halladay with his ICON A5

Roy Halladay with his ICON A5

NTSB investigations naturally attract a lot of press interest. The tragedy of former MLB pitcher and Cy Young winner, Roy Halladay crashing his brand new, the first 2018 Founder’s Edition Icon A5 will exacerbate the intensity of the media coverage and speculation. The fatal accident occurred off of Ben Pilot Point near Port Ritchey, FL.

Roy Halladay pitchHeadlines with the words “sports car with wings”, “plane for unlicensed pilots”, “a Jet Ski with Wings”, a flying toy, an “aerial ATV” and other words intended to wingphotocapture the attention of readers. It will be months, if not years, before the NTSB will issue a probable cause finding.

Here are some insights, bereft of any probable cause speculation, on the NTSB and this plane, the pilot, the unusual features of the LSA ICON A5 and some of the issues which will appear on the Board’s agenda.



The ICON A5’s NTSB record

The Board has investigated two previous Icon A5 crashes—

  • one at Lake Berryessa in northern California. The disaster killed Icon lead engineer Jon Karkow and his colleague, Cagri Sever. The probable cause finding was pilot error (pilot mistakenly thought the canyon that he entered was a different canyon that led to the larger, open portion of the lake.)




  • another crash near Key Largo, FL, not fatal, was attributed to a hard landing, a/k/a pilot error, causing the hull to crack and sink.





The Pilot


Halladay, whose father was a business pilot, was not permitted to fly during his baseball career. On his very active Twitter account he tweeted “that becoming a pilot was the realization of a lifelong dream.” The pitcher had received his Private Pilot License over a year ago, and had qualified for aircraft single- and multi-engine land ratings and an instrument rating, and a sport-pilot seaplane endorsement. He had amassed 700 flight hours since getting his pilot’s license. Halladay had booked time on the ICON A5 by renting planes before his aircraft was delivered. The manufacturer required purchasers to complete a course at its Flight Center before taking possession of their plane.



Evidentially, his wife, Brandy, was not enthused about this urge to fly until they went on a flight together, at the end of which she exclaimed that she understood the thrill.






The ICON A5 was one of the most visible airplanes manufactured under the FAA’s Light Sport Aircraft designation. The LSA concept was intended to stimulate innovation among this class of planes. The rules do not require the aircraft to have extensive on-board equipment and instrumentation, and the horsepower of these engines is limited. In concert with the lower threshold, LSAs were prohibited from flying in bad weather (IFR).

As of today, the FAA registry has just 11 A5s on its registry (including Halladay’s) with another three soon to be sold.

 One of the unusual aspects of the A5 is its built-in pontoons which increases its access to water landings on even small lakes. The designers engineered the plane to be spin resistant (loss of control being a common problem with low time pilots). Its wings fold, like many aircraft carrier planes; so, once folded up, it can go in a trailer behind an automobile.  could even be trailered behind a car.

Halladay’s aircraft was equipped with a whole airplane parachute system, which could be manually deployed in a catastrophic failure situation, making impact with the land or water theoretically survivable.

Its Rotax 912iS Sport, a reliable, lightweight, and efficient engine, is electronically fuel injected, delivers even better efficiency and extremely simple operation in all conditions and can cruise at 95mph.

NTSB spokesperson Terry Williams reported the announced or known facts:


  1. The plane, actually pieces, has been recovered and secured






2. It crashed in about 4 feet of water among the mangroves

crash site







3.Halladay was alone in the ICON A5

4.No Flight Plane had been filed nor a Mayday call filed.

5.Williams said that there appeared to be many witnesses who said that the plane was flying at a low altitude.

6.She asked for any pictures/videos. TMZ put a video up on its site taken by some nearby boaters.

moment of crash











This photographer’s voice over falls well below the famous narration by Herbert Morrison in his description of Hindenburg crash –the emotions and word choice.

7. The FDR and CVR had been recovered

8, It will take between 1 and 2 years for the Board to issue a final determination.

Insights into the Investigation

  1.  Because Roy Halladay was a celebrity (like Buddy Holly, Payne Stewart, JFK Jr., Sen. John Tower and John Denver), the Board may make more resources available to resolve this investigation more quickly.
  2. The Board has previously investigated two ICON A5 crashes and found pilot error in both. There will be some pressure to see if the three crashes collectively point to a need for improved operating specifications or training.
  3. In that the prior two findings identified “pilot error”, the Board may place greater emphasis on the design of the aircraft.
  4. . ICON issued on October 17, new Low Altitude Guidelines.

We have developed and tested them over the last few months and now they are incorporated in ICON Flight Training. Why is this important? 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. 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.

4.Did Halladay get this ICON advisory?

5. Were the Guidelines adequate?

6. LSA and the light sport pilot license are relatively new FAA initiatives which are intended to incentivize  innovation, to generate more people entering aviation and to justify lower requirements based on lower risks. These risk-based policies may entice the Board to examine these regulatory actions.

No answers, but a lot of challenging questions which are likely to be examined in the Halladay crash!





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3 Comments on "Halladay crash sadly will likely pose challenging questions for NTSB"

  1. “It will be months, if not years, before the NTSB will issue a probable cause finding.” Really. “The A5s are equipped with cameras and data recorders so it won’t be long before the cause of the crash is known. The first fatal crash of an A5 occurred only last May, and by August, the NTSB determined the cause to be pilot error. So give it a few weeks”….this quote came from AvWeb.

  2. Walt, thanks for your comment. You are probably right, but the AIIC predicted one to two years; so my less precise prediction was meant not to contradict her statement,

  3. The NTSB is extremely detailed and careful, since part of their job is to make safety recommendations that might prevent similar accidents in future. However, the facts in the report already show clearly that Hallady was in violation of at least one Federal Aviation Regulation, certainly of FAR Sec. 91.119 (Minimimum Safe Altitudes: General), particuarly paragraph (c) which reads, “Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.” He was 75 feet away from a number of homes at one point, and certainly closer than 500 ft to boaters repeatedly, at a recorded speed of 87 knots, i.e., 100 mph. At that speed, 75 ft is literally a split second from disaster. In addition, this was not the first time he’d been recorded flying recklessly, as video from a couple of weeks before shows him doing exactly the same kind of flying, even closer to boaters, plus buzzing down the shoreline at less than 30 feet up and 20 to 30 feet away from dozens of beachgoers. Obviously he didn’t deserve the death penalty for violating regulations or flying incredibly stupidly. But let’s at least acknowledge those regulations exist for a reason, and not just to protect the pilot. His flying posed a danger to others. So while ICON’s advertising is ill-advised and its marketing staff clueless, the cause of this accident is clearly the pilot’s belief that the laws – including the laws of physics – simply didn’t apply to him.

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