Although it will take the National Transportation Safety Board many months to conclude its investigation into the fatal crash of former Major League pitcher Roy Halladay’s Icon A5 on Tuesday afternoon, an eyewitness to the crash told Flying that the light sport amphibian was performing aggressive, low-level maneuvers that he described as “aerobatics” before it slammed into the water under controlled flight.
Fred Grunden of New Port Richey, Florida, said he was working near the water on Tuesday when the high revving of a small airplane’s engine caught his attention. He turned to see Halladay in his A5 “putting on what looked like an airshow” with steep turns at low altitude as the airplane pitched up sharply before diving back toward the water. Grunden reached for his phone to record the plane, but before he could capture video he watched in horror as the A5 came out of an aggresssive pitch up near the beach, headed back down toward the water and failed to pull out of its dive in time.
“There was a big splash in the water, and then nothing,” Grunden said.
Halladay, 40, was fairly new to flying, having received his private pilot’s license only in the last few years after retiring from a sensational baseball career, but he had gained much experience in the intervening time, earning a multi-engine and instrument rating and even buying a Cessna Caravan that he flew regularly. He posted a photo to Instagram in 2015 proudly posing in front of the Caravan with his father, a corporate pilot.
Video posted by TMZ confirms that Halladay appeared to be flying at low level before the crash, but no footage has so far emerged showing the accident itself. Halladay took delivery of the first full-rate production A5 last month after completing his transition training with Icon. The training syllabus was recently amended to include specific low-level procedures that urged pilots to attempt only “benign” maneuvers below 300 feet.