Roy Halladay was flying his tiny sport plane low over the Gulf of Mexico shortly before it slammed into the water and killed the retired star pitcher, witnesses told federal investigators.
National Transportation Safety Board Investigator Noreen Price said Wednesday that Halladay’s ICON A5 experienced a “high-energy impact” with the water. She said both flight data recorders were recovered and the plane did not have a voice recorder.
She said Halladay had been a licensed pilot since 2013 and logged about 700 hours of flight time before Tuesday’s crash near Tampa. She said a preliminary report on the cause likely will be issued in seven to 10 days, but the full investigation could take up to two years.
Price said it was too early to say whether Halladay’s crash was related to two earlier crashes this year of A5s, one of them that killed both the plane’s chief designer and test pilot
“Every accident is different. They are very complex. So as we move forward in the factual finding phase, if we see anything that we believe might connect it to previous accidents, we will certainly look at that. And if we see anything that we think is unsafe, we will make recommendation immediately,” Price said during a news conference in New Port Richey.
The 40-year-old former Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher had been the proud owner for less than a month of his ICON A5, and was among the first to fly the model. In one of many enthusiastic tweets about the plane, Halladay said it felt “like flying a fighter jet.”
Rolled out in 2014, the A5 is an amphibious aircraft meant to be treated like an ATV, a piece of weekend recreational gear with folding wings that can easily be towed on a trailer to a lake where it can take off from the water.
“The way that a lot of people described it is a Jet Ski with wings,” Stephen Pope, editor-in-chief of Flying magazine, told The Associated Press. “It’s really a play thing.”
The man who led the plane’s design, 55-year-old John Murray Karkow, died while flying an A5 over California’s Lake Berryessa on May 8, a crash the NTSB attributed to pilot error.
In other tweets, Halladay said he had dreamed about owning one of the planes. He said in video on the company’s website that he had to talk his wife into letting him get one. The son of a corporate pilot, Halladay had been forbidden to take up aviation until the two-time Cy Young Award winner retired from baseball after the 2013 season.
Pope said “the plane itself is great.” But he had concerns about Halladay, a relatively inexperienced pilot, taking the craft out over water at low altitude. The plane, however, was marketed as a craft that could do that.
“They still think that that’s the way the airplane should be flown, and there are people in aviation who completely disagree with that,” Pope said. “They think you should not have a low-time pilot flying low over water. That’s a recipe for disaster.”
Low flying was part of the problem when Karkow, the designer, crashed, according to federal investigators. Karkow was killed along with passenger Cagri Sever, the company’s newly hired director of engineering.
The NTSB blamed pilot error for the crash, saying Karkow mistakenly entered the wrong canyon while flying over a California lake and was unable to correct in time, striking the canyon wall.
Another A5 crashed in April, making a hard landing in the water off Key Largo, Florida, injuring the pilot and his passenger. The pilot told investigators the plane descended faster than he expected.
Halladay’s ICON A5 went down around noon Tuesday off the coast of Florida, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said.