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When baseball star Roy Halladay crashed his plane and died, it was a tragedy for people and an industry.
It shocked family and friends who knew the 40-year-old, former major league pitcher. It also troubled makers of the ICON A5; it was the third fatality in the new design.
Amateur video showed that Halladay was flying dangerously close to the water, and witnesses said he was showboating. Still, the manufacturer is reeling from the impact of a sport plane that was the darling of the light aircraft industry.
From its conception, the low-flying two-seater was a sensation. The aviation community praised the first production model as a "sports car with wings," and enthusiasts wanted ten times more than the company could produce.
ICON took 1,850 orders, but could only make a few dozen after it went on sale in 2014. Problems with production and purchase agreements led to lay-offs last year, and then tragedy struck.
An A5 crash-landed in Florida in April, and then the plane's designer and company engineer died in a California accident in May. After the Halladay tragedy, questions about the aircraft's safety became front-page news.
"Did Halladay, who had been used to promote the airplane in videos produced by Icon, abandon good sense to thrill-fly the airplane, or did other factors contribute to his death?" asked Forbes writer Christine Negroni.
The National Transportation Safety Board found that the first two accidents were due to pilot error. The Halladay video speaks for itself.
However, the sport plane industry may have a problem. According to aviation lawyer Steve Marks, the accident rate for experimental aircraft like the ICON A5 is "staggering."
"It's a terrible safety risk to the people who operate these aircraft," Marks told USA Today.
Marks said experimental and light aircraft do not require the same licensing as larger planes. As a result, he said, those pilots have less training to operate riskier aircraft.
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