Last week on Nov. 7, former MLB pitcher and two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay passed away when he crashed his plane in the Gulf of Mexico. Former teammates, opponents, coaches and fans alike are mourning the tragic loss of the legendary “Doc,” as he was fondly known.
The deaths of famous athletes like Roberto Clemente, José Fernández and now Halladay have a way of sparking powerful discourse and debate about the underlying issue that caused their deaths. In the case of Halladay, this means starting the discussion about whether the aircraft that crashed is safe for recreational use and whether pilots wishing to fly at low altitudes need more experience and more challenging testing requirements.
During his retirement, Halladay picked up a new hobby. He began flying recreational air- crafts and he had acquired one of his own. His plane, the ICON A5, is an incredible feat of engineering. It is an amphibious aircraft and can be folded such that it is small enough to be carried in a trailer. The technology present in this plane is so new that A5 has only been on the market for three years. Halladay’s is the third life claimed by the ICON A5 since April, the other two being the plane’s head designer and the company’s director of engineering. They died in the same crash in California in May. Similar to Halladay, they were flying at extraordinarily low altitude, as is standard procedure for this aircraft. Being that the A5 is so innovative, it is not unreasonable to say that the plane itself could be to blame for the crashes, rather than the pilots.
The crash in May was investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and it was determined that the crashes were the result of pilot error rather than fundamental flaws in the aircraft’s design. The two ICON employees were flying low to the ground when they crashed into a canyon. Halladay’s crash will undergo similar investigation and, in accordance with the rather aggressive flight pattern apparent in the videos acquired by TMZ, it is expected that the investigation will once again concede that it is not the fault of the plane’s design but of the pilot. The question then becomes, why are pilots crashing these planes specifically?
The explanation is indisputable. The plane is designed to be flown at astonishingly low altitudes, which makes it problematic for novice pilots to operate. Naturally, room for error is minimal in low-altitude aviation, which means that pilots must be a bit more skilled. Perhaps a new test could be developed, specific to low-altitude flying, that could only be taken a certain period of time after one has earned their initial sport or recreational pilot certification test.
Another potential solution to this problem is changing the design of the plane into something designed for higher-altitude flying. Though much of the aircraft’s appeal stems from its ability to fly so close to the ground or water, its other qualities, such as its portability and amphibiousness, make it a unique plane even if it is not intended to fly at low altitudes. This would certainly resolve the problems that have been causing the ICON A5 to crash by forcing them to be flown at slightly safer altitudes.
Halladay’s career with the Toronto Blue Jays and the Philadelphia Phillies was 16 years long and stellar throughout. He spent the majority of his time with the Jays, serving as the ace pitcher on their subpar team, but ended up joining the Phillies organization in 2010 as the ace of their legendary pitching staff composed of Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. Though they were unable to win another World Series over the three years that followed, Halladay decided to retire at the age of 36. His loss comes as a tragic one to the baseball world. He was one of the greats, only hardly removed from his professional career, and he died far too soon. Regardless of the causes or potential solutions to this ongoing problem, another life has been claimed by this aircraft. One of baseball’s greatest pitcher’s is gone much too soon, and he will be missed dearly.