Details Emerge in Fatal Icon Crash

The aviation world was rocked Monday when acclaimed aeronautical engineer Jon Karkow and fellow Icon Aircraft employee Cagri Sever died in a crash of an Icon A5 amphibious plane on the shores of Lake Berryessa in Napa, California. The A5, which has received FAA certification but not yet reached market, has been one of the most hotly anticipated aircraft designs in recent years, with its sleek appearance and advanced safety features key selling points.

According to NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson, the flight departed from Nut Tree Airport in Vacaville. Karkow, Icon’s lead test pilot as well a designer, was giving an introductory flight to the newly-hired Sever. A boater on the lake saw the plane flying 30 to 50 feet above the water. It passed into a cove, and the witness heard the engine rev higher as the plane pitched up into a climb. It turned left and passed out of sight. Then the boater heard the crash.

The plane had come to rest on the shore with the left wing in the water and the rest on land.

The cause of the crash was not immediately apparent. There was no fire, and all of the pieces of the plane were accounted for at the crash site. The plane did not strike a power line, as some had feared, given its low altitude.

NTSB investigators are now writing up a preliminary report, to be issued tomorrow or Saturday. (UPDATE: It’s now available here.)

It is of course impossible to understand the cause of a crash without a full investigation. One possible scenario that investigators will likely explore is the possibility that the pilot pulled up too steeply at the edge of the lake and caused an accelerated aerodynamic stall. In this condition a too-high angle between the wing and the relative wind causes the former to abruptly lose lift. At the accident airplane’s low altitude, there would be little room to recover.

It is common practice for floatplanes to climb steeply when transitioning from low-level flight over water to flight over land, in order to avoid hitting obstacles such as powerlines.

The Icon A5, a sleek and sexy sport plane with seats for two, has generated enormous interest in the media, and was nominated for a Collier Trophy last year. More than 1,000 customers have reportedly laid down deposits. But the company has lately been troubled by production problems, and this crash will add significantly to its woes. Apart from the human tragedy, the accident will add expense and delay to the program as the company struggles to address whatever problems caused the crash.

Safety has been one of the primary selling points of the Icon; the company claimed that its design minimized the danger of spinning and stalling. A fatal crash is not a good look—especially if that crash turns out to have been caused by the very aerodynamic condition the plane is supposedly immune from.

If so, the story of Icon will go down as one of the dangers of engineering for safety: as with the Titanic, if you believe that you’re safe from danger, there’s an incentive to flirt with it.

64 thoughts on “Details Emerge in Fatal Icon Crash”

  1. @Jeff

    Yes, on the stall or spin. I will read the detailed report over the next few days.

  2. @DennisW, Incredible. An article in the Inquisitr had this bit:

    “the ICON company published an article on its website about Halladay after he received one of the first 2018 A5 models. “I’ve been dreaming about flying since I was a boy but was only able to become a pilot once I retired from baseball,” the article quoted Halladay as saying. “I’ve owned other aircraft, but no aircraft embodies the adventure or captured the dream of flying like the A5. Not only is it the safest and easiest aircraft I’ve ever flown, it is hands-down the most fun.”

  3. I’m a paraglider w/ 300+ hrs and have followed the Icon A-5 since its inception. Safe airplanes crash. Safe doesn’t mean impervious. Anyone who leaves the ground, in any flying vehicle, risks death. It’s very sad that three of people have died in A-5s this year. I read the NTSB report on the 1st crash and it’s pretty obvious that the pilot mistakenly flew into the wrong cove. This action would not have occurred with any prudent flying. Even paragliders check out their LZ from above prior to making their approach. Icon needs to emphasize, with their own pilots and customers, safe flying practices. And, ensure everyone understands that safe design doesn’t supercede safe piloting procedures. I take risks with my paragliding flying maneuvers but the closest I come to danger was not maintaining adequate clearance from vegetation growing on the cliffs where I soar my paraglider. Unless a design flaw and intentional cover up are found it would be a shame to put the onus on this aircraft.

  4. @E. Eric Matus, Whenever aircraft get a reputation of being dangerous (I can think of a few: the DC-10, BD-5, Piper Tomahawk, etc) it’s often a question of issues outside simple airworthiness. In the case of the A-5, I don’t really know, but I think there have been some red flags concerning the way the machine was marketed. First of all, it was targeted at non-pilots, which means that a disproportionate number of people who get behind the controls are going to be low time; it was marketed as being exhilirating, which means that people are going to approach it from a mindset of maximum adrenaline, which encourages things like flying low; and it was touted as being unusually safe, which paradoxically is going to motivate people to push the envelope. But all three together, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a high accident rate.

  5. Rip Roy Halladay. I wont take a free a5 if you offered me! Very sad shut doen this company

  6. I am a seaplane pilot. Sea planes are a lot of fun. May be too much fun. It can be really tempting to hot dog. I haven’t flown a Icon but I would love to. They look like they are the best float planes ever built. But all planes- especially float planes, deserve a lot of respect. To be sure, flying float planes is for exceptionally skilled pilots.

  7. Airplane flying at low altitude is dangerous. Period. That an experienced pilot and designer of this plane made a low level flying mistake speaks to how the plane and Icon’s own marketing lulled him into a false sense of security about his ability to safely conduct low level flying. Fooled by their own marketing message. The pilot was flying this aircraft in a way that only a helicopter should be flown. Take off, get clear of terrain, and stay clear of terrain. Hot dogging 30ft above the water when you don’t know what is around the corner will get your killed. It’s like driving around a blind corner at 70mph without knowing if the road keeps going. Don’t show off to your passenger while flying an aircraft. This is a huge message to Icon that they need to change their marketing message.

  8. @A5 hater:

    Interesting comments & discussion—until your troll-like injection. Not insulting you; just suggest more considered input.

  9. @all

    A lot of liter bikes are sold. When the Yamaha R1 came out the dealer in Red Bluff (near me) scored five. They were all spoken for before they arrived. All five were “wadded up” within 30 days. One made it only an on ramp near the dealership. The problem was not with the motorcycle.

  10. The Icon needs around 200 HP, not 100. I write about it in my tweets at Scroll down. I am working on a new engine type that would solve the issue of power for the ICON and many other airplanes. If you are interested in R&D and want to solve this problem write me at Karkow would be alive if he had my engine in the ICON. I tweet about it.

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