Retired baseball pitcher Roy Halladay died yesterday in his brand-new Icon A5. The Icon A5 is a light sport plane, although Halladay apparently was a full private pilot. He received his training and license in 2014, after he retired from baseball.
The A5 has a number of safety-minded features, including an angle-of-attack indicator, a Ballistic Recovery Systems parachute, and control elements apparently designed to create benign stalling characteristics. When the model was first introduced, there were other, more controversial features, including mandatory cockpit audio and video recording. After consumer outcry, those requirements were dropped. One requirement not dropped was an agreement to hold the manufacturer blameless in the event of an accident (i.e., no lawsuits).
The Icon was being marketed to the non-aviation community as an airborne version of motorized vehicles just as jet skis, ATVs, and motorcycles. In other words, as just another toy for thrill seekers.
As for the accident, of which there are few details, all the warning signs are present: rich guy with a competitive personality, newly certificated, with a fancy new airplane. It remains to be seen how the pilot came to crash a plane designed to be flown low and slow, with ample safety margins.
But then, what is slow for a normal airplane is very fast when you’re flying a “jet ski with wings,” just over the water.
We took the ferry from Swanquarter, near Lake Mattamuskeet, across the shallow, treacherous Pamlico Sound to arrive at the off-season island getaway called Ocracoke. Blackbeard died there. The year-round population is 685. It was hot, but there were no crowds. We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast called The Castle, which overlooked Silver Lake, which isn’t a lake but a dredged-out marina where the hourly ferries from Cedar Island and Swanquarter dock, alongside the skiffs and sloops.
On Saturday we celebrated our fifth anniversary. We also looked at the airstrip, just outside of town, before the island turns into the national seashore. The airstrip will be where we arrive on our next trip, after I have my pilot’s license.
On Sunday, we hired a boat to take us across the inlet to the island where there is an abandoned town called Portsmouth. It was a once-bustling “lightering” point, where heavy incoming cargo would be transferred to lighter, shallower boats that would traverse the final miles over the Pamlico Sound to the mainland.
Our day began with a 20-minute boat trip across the inlet. Portsmouth was finally abandoned 50 years ago, but the land is now in the hands of the National Park Service. But the ghosts of the town don’t want visitors that badly: They are guarded by utterly dastardly mosquitoes. We doused ourselves in deet and covered ourselves with nets, and they still got a few nicks in.
Here are a few photos, all from our day out to Portsmouth.