Two employees of a Silicon Valley company that manufactures two-seater planes designed for safety were killed after crashing one on Monday. It is the first fatal accident involving the Icon A5, a single-engine aircraft that has been in development for years, though no production models are yet used by customers. One of the victims, 55-year-conventional John Karkow, was reportedly the company’s lead test pilot, and has been credited with helping design the aircraft’s folding wings.
The fatal accident occurred on Lake Berryessa in Napa County, CA, according to SFGate. The cause of the crash is not yet known.
“This was a devastating personal loss for many of us,” ICON Aircraft CEO Kirk Hawkins said in a publicly-released company statement.
The “light-sport aircraft” that doesn’t require a full pilot’s license had received awards for its ingenuity and became something of a media darling. After fitting the first aircraft to meet FAA spin-resistance standards in 2012, the Icon A5 received considerable attention in the past for its accessible design. In a Wired profile of the company published in 2015, Hawkins demonstrated the plane’s ability to stall without hurtling to the ground, a feat of contemporary engineering.
“The A5 has a remarkable safety feature that helps support the aircraft flying and controllable even when the pilot has made the mistake of inadvertently stalling the aircraft,” Hawkins had told one reporter after demonstrating the plane’s ability to hover post-stall. “Most aircraft when held in a stall, even at full power, will enter into a rapid descent which can degrade into a loss of control or a spin under certain conditions.”
Prior to Monday’s crash, the only other reported incident involving the plane occurred in April, when a tough landing caused one model to wind up afloat in the ocean off the coast of Miami. Pilot error was the reason the company if for the accident, and neither of the two passengers were injured.
ICON Aircraft has yet to release any further details into the cause of Monday’s fatal crash. According to Wired, the National Transportation Safety Board will publish a report on its findings next week after investigating.